South Carolina

Gunman opens fire during Sunday church service robbery, South Carolina police say

A search is underway for the man who shot a gun inside of a Columbia church and hit a member of the congregation during a Sunday morning robbery, the Forest Acres Police Department said.

The shooting occurred just after 6 a.m. during a service at the Centro Cristiano De Columbia Church, police said in a news release. That is near the Decker Mall Shopping Center and the intersection of Decker Boulevard and Trenholm Road.

There were about 20 people attending the early service at the church with a large Hispanic congregation, Chief Gene Sealy said in an interview with The State.

The suspect was alone when he entered demanding money, according to the news release.

Police said the suspect fired the gun into the air multiple times and shot a member of the congregation before running out of the church.

The man who was shot suffered life-threatening injuries, according to Sealy. The churchgoer was taken to an area hospital and went directly into surgery, Sealy said.

More information on his condition was not available, but no other injuries were reported.

After running from the church with an undisclosed amount of stolen money, the suspect got into an empty dark-colored Toyota Prius, possibly dark blue, according to the release. He drove south on Decker Boulevard toward Percival Road and the intersection with Interstate 77, police said.

Police described the suspect as tall, slim black man, who was last seen wearing a black striped shirt and had a bandanna covering part of his face and a beanie on the top of his head.

The suspect was armed with a small silver semi-automatic pistol, according to the release.

Police are still searching the crime scene for evidence, are working to recover multiple bullet shell casings and are looking at video surveillance from many of the businesses in the Decker Boulevard area, Sealy said.

The suspect is facing multiple charges for armed robbery, gun crimes, kidnapping and attempted murder, according to Sealy, who added those charges could be upgraded, including murder, if the shooting victim dies.

Church Pastor Henry Alfaro said the congregation is praying for the 23-year-old shooting victim, WLTX reported.

Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or report it to CrimeStoppers at 888-CRIME-SC or submit an online tip.

Sealy said it appears the shooting was an armed robbery, not a hate crime.

Dylann Roof, a self-avowed white supremacist, murdered nine black parishioners in June 2015 during a Bible study session at Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel AME Church. Roof pleaded guilty to nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. He is on death row in Indiana.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.