Legislators mourn loss of SC Senator in mass shooting in Charleston

Published: Jun. 18, 2015 at 7:24 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 28, 2015 at 7:27 AM EDT
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Flags fly at half staff at South Carolina State House. (Source: Will Whitson)
Flags fly at half staff at South Carolina State House. (Source: Will Whitson)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Black mourning cloth covers the desk of Senator Clementa Pinckney in the South Carolina Senate chamber.

Pinckney was among those killed in a mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, family members tell WIS.

Pinckney, 41, who is a pastor at the church, was a married father of two. He was elected to the State House at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.

After a brief prayer in the Senate Chamber Thursday morning, Senators watched a video of Pinckney from a speech he made on the Senate floor in April, arguing in favor of body cameras for police officers, using the deadly shooting of Walter Scott by a white police officer as an example.

Senator Vincent Sheheen wiped away tears as addressed the Senate about Pinckney's accomplishments.

"This horrible event that led to the Senator's death is a devastating tragedy for all of Senate District #45 and the state of South Carolina," said Allendale County Democratic Party chair Wilda J. Robinson in a statement. "The Senator's untimely death will be a great loss for our region and indeed for the entire state."

Robinson said Pinckney's sister also was among the dead.

In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolinians to pray for the victims and their families and decried violence at religious institutions.

"We'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another," Haley said.

"I and all of my colleagues in the Senate are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Senator Pinckney," said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler on behalf of the Senate Republican Caucus. "He was a talented and well respected Senator who represented the people of his church, his community and his state with great character and a servant's heart. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, Jennifer, Eliana and Malana, as well as the other victims' families."

"As a loving father, husband and dedicated public servant, Clementa Pinckney was a man of honor and sought to make a difference in the lives of others," said House Speaker Jay Lucas. "Senator Pinckney's calming presence will be missed in Columbia and across South Carolina, but I am certain his legacy will live on."

On Wednesday, a man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church killing nine people, including the pastor and his sister, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. Charleston Police say the gunman was in the prayer meeting for about an hour before he opened fire.

Police Chief Greg Mullen said law enforcement officers from throughout the east coast have been dispatched to the area to look for the man.

Six women and three men were killed. Their names will not be released until their families are notified.

Mullen said the gunman is "a dangerous individual," and the man's photo has been distributed nationwide for law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout.

Copyright 2015 WIS and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.