Nine people were killed in a shooting in The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church’s in Charleston, S.C. last night during bible study. The tragedy is being investigated as a hate crime.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen says a prayer meeting was going on at the time of the shooting.

The gunman was in the church attending the meeting that was going on and “stayed there almost an hour with the group before the actual event.” According to a witness interviewed by NBC News the suspected shooter reportedly said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Other witnesses say the suspect stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people.”

There were 12 people in the church and the shooter spared 3 of them. The suspect gave one of them a message: “I’m not going to kill you, I’m going to spare you, so you can tell them what happened,” Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott told CNN. Scott said she heard this from the victims’ family members.

The identities of those who were killed have not been released. Except that of the Church’s pastor, State Senate Clementa Pinckney, reverend Sharonda Singleton and Tywanza Sanders, a recent graduate of Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina.

The suspected gunman, a 21-year-old, Dylann Storm Roof was picked up by police this morning in North Carolina.

During a press conference President Barrack Obama expressed his heartache at the church shooting:

“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. Innocent people were hurt because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting a gun. Sometime as a country we’ll have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced counties. It doesn’t happen in other places with this frequency. It is within our power to do something about it.”

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