Police respond to church shooting
Police respond to church shooting Reuters

Nine people were shot dead in South Carolina on Wednesday night (EST) during a massacre at one of Charleston's oldest black churches. 

One gunman, described as a white male in his early twenties, opened fire during night services at the Emanuel AME Church. Eight people died at the church, while another died later at a hospital. 

Police have launched an extensive hunt for the perpetrator, who fled the scene immediately after the shooting spree.

Mayor Joe Riley called the shooting, "a most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy" for the historic institution. 

Officials from the FBI, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division and other municipal police forces were joining local police to locate the suspect, Riley added. 

According to US reports, the shooter entered the church at 9 p.m. EST and opened fire. While the cause of the crime is not clear, both Riley and Charleston police chief Gregory Mullen called the massacre a hate crime. 

Shortly after the shooting, police ordered local residents to evacuate their homes, after a bomb threat was received.