Jun 18, 2015 12:35 AM

Shooting in downtown Charleston, South Carolina

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) Police responded to a shooting Wednesday night at the site of a historic African-American church in downtown Charleston. There was no immediate word on casualties, but a newspaper quoted the city's mayor as saying that some people were killed.

The shooting took place at the address of the Emanuel AME Church. The Post and Courier newspaper reported that the pastor of the church, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was inside for a service at the time of the shooting. But it was unclear if the shooting took place inside the church.

Antjuan Seawright, a spokesman for state Senate Democrats, said he hadn't heard from Pinkney or his family.

"We are praying," Seawright said.

Police helicopters with searchlights were circling overhead in the area, while several pastors could be seen kneeling and praying across the street. Police moved members of the news media back away from the site due to what they called an "imminent" threat. They did not release any details.

The campaign of GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sent out an email saying that due to the shooting, the candidate had canceled an event planned in the city Thursday.

The Emmanuel AME church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church.

One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.

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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