Pinckney, 41, and several others were shot at the historic black church by a white gunman. The shooting happened during a prayer meeting.
The other victims have not yet been identified.
The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, police said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. His Sister Was Also Shot
Pinckney’s sister, whose name hasn’t been released, was also shot at the church, according to ABC News 4. It was not immediately known if she was killed.
According to the Charleston Post and Courier, the shooting was reported at about 9 p.m. An official with the NAACP told the newspaper that the gunman entered the prayer meeting, sat down with the group for a little while and then opened fire, killing nine.
One survivor was left to “tell the story,” the newspaper reports.
“An evil and hateful person took the lives of citizens who had come to worship and pray together,” Mayor Joe Riley said at a press conference.
The search for the gunman continued as of 3 a.m.
“This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience,” Police Chief Greg Mullen said. “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives, and I can assure you that we’re going to do everything in our power to find this individual, to lock him up and to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
2. Pinckney Was the Youngest African-American in South Carolina’s History to be Elected to the LegislaturePinckney has been in South Carolina’s legislature since 1996, when he was elected as a state representative at the age of 23, according to his biography on the church’s website. He was the youngest African American ever elected to the legislature.
He was then elected to the State Senate in 2000.
A Beaufort, South Carolina, native, Pinckney graduated from Allen University in 1995, was a Princeton University Research Fellow in 1994, earned his Master’s of Public Administration from the University of South Carolina in 1999 and studied at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, according to his state senate website.
“It is a devastating loss and that’s putting it mildly,” said Reverend Joseph Darby, the presiding elder at Beaufort AME Church, in an interview on MSNBC. “He was an advocate for the people, he was a very caring and competent pastor, and he was a very brave man. Brave men sometimes die difficult deaths. He would’ve wanted to go out serving the people, it’s unfortunate that he’s gone.”
In 1999, Ebony Magazine named him as one of the African American community’s 30 leaders of the future.
Pinckney spoke about his inspirations in a 1999 profile by the Savannah Morning News, saying “In life, we are all faced with the opportunity to serve. It is at times a hard choice to make but those hard choices yield great rewards. Those rewards are mostly for others and not for ourselves. That’s what service is all about.”
Pinckney also told the newspaper, which named him one of its 20 Under 40:
In life, we are all faced with the opportunity to serve. It is at times a hard choice to make but those hard choices yield great rewards. Those rewards are mostly for others and not for ourselves. That’s what service is all about.
3. He Is Survived by His Wife & 2 ChildrenPinckney and his wife, Jennifer, have two children, Eliana and Malana. They live in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
The couple married in October 1999.
According to a Savannah Morning News article from 1999, Pinckney met the former Jennifer Benjamin in 1993 when he was a student at Allen University and she was at the University of South Carolina.
4. He Has Been a Pastor Since He Was 18
Pinckney began preaching at 13 and was first appointed to pastor at 18, according to the church’s website. He was named pastor at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2010.
He was a fourth-generation pastor. His great-grandfather, Reverend Lorenzo Stevenson, sued the Democratic party to end white-only primaries, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. His uncle, Reverend Levern Stevenson, fought to desegregate school buses in Jasper County in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1999, at 26 and just before his marriage, Pinckney became the pastor at Mt. Horr AME Church on Yonges Island in Charleston County, according to an article in the Savannah Morning News from the time.
“That (the ministry) is my first love,” he told the newspaper. “I see everything I do as an extension of the ministry. It’s all about service. In the community, in the African American community, one person ought to say something and that is the minister. The minster is paid by the people. He doesn’t work for a big company. He doesn’t represent a particular special interest.”
He also has preached in Columbia and Beaufort, South Carolina.
5. He Stood Alongside Other Pastors at Rallies After the Walter Scott Shooting
Pinckney and other South Carolina pastors recently held rallies after the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, by a white North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager. The shooting stirred up racial tensions in the Charleston region.
He also played a key role in pushing for body camera legislation, co-sponsoring a bill that was recently signed into law by the governor.