Story highlights

  • Nine people confirmed dead
  • White male suspect, Dylann Roof, in custody
  • Police call shooting at black congregation church a hate crime

The US is mourning the victims of its latest gun massacre, after a 21-year-old white man allegedly shot dead nine people inside an historic African-American church in the US city of Charleston.

Notes from the field - Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo in Lexington, South Carolina
It's unclear if Dylann Roof ever graduated from White Knoll High School here in Lexington, South Carolina. A few of his ex-classmates have described him as being a "loner" who experimented with drugs, and at least one ex-classmate said he often told racially insensitive jokes.

The town of Lexington, where Roof spent some of his formative years, is a working-class town of about 18,000 people. It's 84 percent white, 12 percent African-American. It's working class: the average household income is about $44,000 a year, roughly $10,000 below the national average. It's socially and politically conservative.

On Thursday night, Lexington was quiet as people tried to come to grips with what had happened in Charleston.

In what was described as a "hate crime", Dylann Roof spent nearly an hour inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night before killing six women and three men, including the pastor, according to Greg Mullen, Charleston's police chief.

Roof was detained during a traffic stop about three-hours drive away in North Carolina on Thursday.

He waived extradition and was taken to a waiting police car wearing a bulletproof vest, with shackles on his feet and his hands cuffed behind his back.

Memorials were held across the US on Thursday night and Americans took to social media to debate how to label the latest mass shooting.

Some described the killing as a hate crime committed by a lone wolf, with others saying the incident should be described as "terrorism".

The shooting is expected to bring the issue of gun control back to the political agenda as President Barack Obama's final term winds down and the 2016 presidential race gains momentum.

On Thursday, Obama addressed the nation on the shooting.

He said he and his wife Michelle knew 41-year-old Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor who was killed along with eight others on Wednesday night.


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Appearing sombre as well as frustrated, Obama said he wished he did not, so often, have to make statements like the one he made on Thursday.

"Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let's be clear: at some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he said.

Roof was detained during a traffic stop about three-hours drive away in North Carolina on Thursday [Reuters]

"It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it."

State Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat whose district includes the church, said the shooting "should be a warning to us all that we do have a problem in our society".

"There's a race problem in our country. There's a gun problem in our country. We need to act on them quickly," Gilliard said.


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Al Jazeera's Andy Gallacher, reporting from Charleston, said the mood in the city was one of defiance.

"The church is known as the heart of the community. It was established by African Americans who were fighting for freedom from slavery," he said.

"The community leaders say the man picked on the wrong church. They say they will recover from it and the whole community will put its arms around each together."

Besides Reverend Pinckney, the other victims in the Charleston shooting were identified as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; the Reverend Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; the Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and DePayne Doctor, 49.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies