Very bad news out of South Carolina overnight. A young white man allegedly entered an historic black church in Charleston and shot a group of congregants attending Bible study. Nine are reported dead in the initial release from local police, including one state legislator.

A white gunman killed nine people during a prayer meeting at one of Charleston’s oldest and best-known black churches Wednesday night in one of the worst mass shootings in South Carolina history.

Heavily armed law enforcement officers scoured the area into the morning for the man responsible for the carnage inside Emanuel AME Church at 110 Calhoun St. At least one person was said to have survived the rampage.

Police revealed no motive for the 9 p.m. attack, which was reportedly carried out by a young white man. Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said, “I do believe this was a hate crime.”

Mayor Joe Riley called the shooting “a most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.”

Given the races of those involved, this is already being described as a hate crime by the police and the media. A security camera photo of the alleged shooter has already been released, along with a picture of his car.

ShooterLarge

It’s hard to believe that the cops don’t know more about this guy than they’re saying this morning. For one thing, multiple sources are citing the police as describing him as “a 21-year-old white man in a gray sweatshirt/hoodie and jeans with Timberland boots.” I have to wonder how they settled on 21 years old instead of giving a range. Also, the guy arrived in a car which appears to have a vanity license plate on it, though SC doesn’t require a front plate, so it may just be decorative. Looking at the enhanced picture, it seems possible that he was wearing some sort of disguise or fake nose or something, but that’s far from clear. If the shooter was really stupid enough to drive his own car to the scene of the crime and not bother wearing a mask, then he’s either a very dim bulb, completely crazy or he didn’t have any plans to escape.

Also, officials were very quick to call it a hate crime, which makes me think that they have an idea who he is. If they didn’t, this could have turned out to be some sort of running dispute between the shooter and somebody at the church or any number of other possible scenarios. Early reports are still sketchy, but one woman interviewed by the local television station reported second hand that another congregant tried to talk him out of shooting, but the shooter said something about you people raping our women and taking over our country. Unless he drove a long way to get there, you’d think that somebody knows this guy. The shooting took place almost twelve hours ago as of this writing, and with a photo and a license plate, police may have some clue as to who he is.

Needless to say, for any of our readers in the Charleston area, let law enforcement know if you have any information but don’t try to interrogate this guy yourself. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of the victims. We’ll no doubt have updates as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: (Jazz) As of 10:30 this morning, the Charleston police have identified the suspect as Dylann Roof of Lexington, South Carolina. And, as I alluded to up front, he is indeed 21 years old and they had a license plate tag for him. I’m still willing to bet that they had a line on this guy a few hours ago, but they may have held off releasing the name for a variety of reasons. Erring on the side of caution, they might not want to send the public out on a chase for someone and have it turn out to be the wrong guy. Equally possible is that they were already hunting for him at known locations where he might show up and they didn’t want to spook him. If Roof thought that he still had the relative safety of anonymity, he might chance returning home to grab some things or to the house of an associate or relative. Sounds like that didn’t pan out and they’re ready to widen the manhunt.

UPDATE: (Jazz) As of 11:20 am eastern, South Carolina police are saying that the shooter has been caught in North Carolina. So much for my theory of suicide by cop. For some reason I figured this guy would rather go out in a blaze of glory and spare us the cost of a trial. Supposedly a tip from the public led to his location and he’s been taken into custody only a few hours after he was identified in the media. Good job and well done props to all of the law enforcement officers involved. Of course, now we’ll be treated to an endless circus of analysis of when, where and why he went off the beam, what this says about the “right wing domestic terror threat” today (yes, I already saw that one Twitter this morning) and all the other dancing which normally surrounds such cases. What do you think his attorney will go for… insanity defense? Cop a plea to avoid the death penalty?