CHARLESTON, South Carolina — He’s white, slightly built and in his early 20s — and police say he walked into a Charleston, South Carolina, church and fatally shot nine people as they attended Bible study class.
That man is now at the center of a major manhunt.
Police released a flier Thursday morning with details of the suspect in the attack on the historic African-American church as they appealed for help to track him down as quickly as possible.
Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen told a news conference that officers “have obtained surveillance videos of the suspect in this case and a suspect vehicle.”
Mullen said the suspect was a “younger white male between 21 and 25 years of age, 5 foot 9 in height” and “has a very distinctive sweatshirt that has markings.”
Mullen emphasized the suspect is “a very dangerous individual” and said “he should not be approached by anyone.”
Any people who recognize the suspect or spots the vehicle should alert law enforcement, he said, rather than trying to follow themselves.
Woman spared by shooter to give account?
A female survivor told family members that the gunman told her he was letting her live to tell everyone else what happened, Dot Scott, president of the local branch of the NAACP, told CNN.
Scott said she had not spoken to the survivor directly but had heard this account repeated at least a dozen times as she met with relatives of the victims Wednesday night. Scott added that she didn’t know if the survivor had ended up at the hospital or being questioned by police.
Because of the church’s historic significance, it is not unusual for visitors, whether white or black, to visit it, Scott said. She said she’d had no indication that any children were among the victims.
Mullen told the news conference the suspect had been in the church attending a meeting that was going on — and “stayed there almost an hour with the group before the actual event.”
But he declined to comment on whether the suspect had let one woman escape.
‘Distinctive’ license plate
The suspect was seen leaving the church in a black four-door sedan, the flier says. “The vehicle you will see has a very distinctive front license plate,” Mullen added.
He appealed for the media to help in circulating the suspect’s image and for the public to be vigilant. The clean-shaven man pictured wears a gray sweatshirt over a white T-shirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots.
“No one in this community will ever forget this night and as a result of this and because of the pain and the hurt this individual has caused this entire community, the law enforcement agents are committed and we will catch this individual,” Mullen said.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley echoed that sentiment, saying everything possible would be done to find a culprit he described as “someone filled with hate and with a deranged mind.”
He added, “Of course we will make sure he pays the price for this horrible act.”
Wednesday night’s attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is being investigated as a hate crime. All the victims, who include the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, were black. Six of those killed were female and three male.
CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.