A white man walked into a historic African-American church in Charleston and opened fire during a Bible study class, killing nine people Wednesday evening. The gunman was still at large early Thursday.

And the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the South, is being investigated as a hate crime. “The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said.  Eight churchgoers died at the scene; a ninth at a hospital, police said.

Among them is the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, according to CNN affiliate WCSC. Officials wouldn’t say how many people were at the Bible study during the shooting. There were survivors, said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, but he didn’t elaborate. Historic significance Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been a presence in Charleston since 1816, when African-American members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church formed their own congregation after a dispute over burial grounds. It was burned to the ground at one point, but rebuilt. Throughout its history, it overcame obstacle after obstacle — destroyed by an earthquake, banned by the state. But its church members persevered, making it the largest African-American church in terms of seating space in Charleston today.

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