A shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church late Wednesday killed nine people, officials reported at a press conference.

Police say they are searching for one suspect, described as a slim white man approximately 21 years old. The FBI is aiding in the investigation.

Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said eight people were found dead at the scene and a ninth died at the Medical University of South Carolina.

"It is senseless, it is unfathomable, that in today's society somebody would walk into a church, into a prayer meeting, and take lives," said Mullen, who added that he believes the attack was a hate crime.

State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told The Associated Press that the church's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed. Pinckney 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state house at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.

The website of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church says it has one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore.

The Associated Press reports the shooting happened the day before the eighth anniversary of a fire at a furniture store that killed nine Charleston firefighters.

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