A FIVE-year-old child survived the fatal mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina by pretending to be dead, it has been reported.
According to family members gathered at a hotel near the scene of the attack that killed nine people, which police are describing as a "hate crime", the child was inside the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when a gunman opened fire.
AS IT HAPPENED
Family members, who had reportedly been briefed by police, told ABC News that the shooter entered the church and briefly joined in a prayer meeting at around 9pm local time on Wednesday night, before standing up and shooting.
Shaun King, reporting for Daily Kos on the scene, said the carnage in Charleston was "beyond description". "Career officers are describing it as the worst thing they've ever seen," he said.
Multiple sources, including a South Caroline state legislator, have reported that Emanuel AME's pastor Reverend Clementa Pinckney is among the nine people killed in the incident, while a tenth person is being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds.
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley said: "This is the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.
"People in prayer, coming together, praying and worshipping God, to have an awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable, obviously the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible."
President Obama makes statement on hate crime, race and gun control in America
President Barack Obama delivered a statement on the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina at the White House.
Mr Obama's statement comes after police said a gunman shot and killed nine people at a historically African-American church, Emanuel AME Church.
"Any death of this sort is a tragedy, any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy," he said. "There is something particularly heartbreaking about death happening at a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace."
"I've had to make statements like this too many times. Communities have had to endure tragedies like this too many times," he continued. "Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries."
The suspect was identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Columbia, South Carolina and was apprehended by the FBI Thursday morning.
The Department of Justice will conduct a hate crime investigation within the DOJ's Civil Rights Divison.
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