Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, has been arrested in the mass shooting death of nine people, three men and six women, during a prayer meeting and bible study Wednesday evening at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
According to reports from television stations in Charleston, Roof, who apparently was no stranger to the victims and had joined them in prayer, was apprehended Thursday in Shelby, N.C., about four hours from Charleston.
The police is calling the massacre a hate crime, and Roof was wearing items indicating his association with apartheid South Africa, though it is still not clear if he was affiliated with hate groups.
“This is an unspeakable and unfathomable act by somebody filled with hate and a deranged mind,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley.
During a press conference in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Department of Justice is “ready to offer every resource, every means and every tool that we possess in order to locate and to apprehend the perpetrator of this barbaric crime.”
In Harlem, the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network said during a press conference Thursday, that the incident was one of the most “horrendous acts that I’ve ever seen…this is a new low of hatred and atrocities in the country.”
During the shooting, a five-year-old girl reportedly survived by following her grandmother’s instructions to play dead.
At this point, Roof is merely a suspect. As reports were released and a photo Roof on television, his uncle said he was convinced that it was his nephew.
It has not been determined if Roof was a member of the church or occasionally attended prayer meetings at the church, which is among the oldest in the South, and founded by Denmark Vesey, who led a failed slave rebellion in Charleston in 1822.
After offering his condolences to the families now in mourning and in need of healing, President Obama said, “Let’s be clear, at some point we as country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries…with this kind of frequency.”
One of the victims was the church’s pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator and often on the frontline against racial violence and police misconduct. Most recently he was among the city’s church leaders and community activists outraged in the shooting death of Walter Scott by the police.
In 1995 and 1996, mainly African American churches across the nation were set on fire and several of them occurred in South Carolina. It was clear from the reports that the churches were not a sanctuary and many of them torched by rightwing hate groups.
And it’s hard not to think about the four little girls who were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.
Have we reached a stage of violence and reactionary indignity that our churches, like many of our temples and synagogues, will have to have guards posted during services?
Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old suspect in the deadly shooting at a Charleston church that left nine people dead, was captured Thursday at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, which is over 240 miles northwest from the crime scene, authorities said.
Police immediately branded the shooting spree, which began just after 9 p.m. Wednesday, a hate crime, and released surveillance images of a white man fleeing the scene at 180-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the horrific incident, which left six women and three men dead.
“This is an unspeakable and unfathomable act by somebody filled with hate and a deranged mind,” Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley said in a Thursday morning press conference. He vowed that authorities were “committed to finding this horrible scoundrel.”
The Post and Courier reported that Roof was arrested twice in South Carolina and was jailed in March in Lexington County on a drug charge. Roof received a .45-caliber pistol from his father for his 21st birthday in April, his uncle told Reuters. The uncle told the news agency that police were at the suspect’s mother’s home shortly after the shooting.
“This is an unspeakable and unfathomable act by somebody filled with hate and a deranged mind.”
- Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph Riley
A five-year-old girl reportedly survived the attack by following her grandmother’s instructions to play dead, and a woman was allowed to leave to tell what had happened. It was not immediately known what message she was supposed to convey.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the suspect entered the church and sat in a pew for up to an hour after the regular prayer meeting had begun, before opening fire at 9:06 p.m.
PHOTOS FROM SCENE
Mullen said “there is no doubt in my mind that this is a hate crime.” The Department of Justice, which will ultimately make that determination, said it is opening a hate crime investigation.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a press conference the department stands “ready to offer every resource, every means and every tool that we possess in order to locate and to apprehend the perpetrator of this barbaric crime.”
Mullen said the scene was chaotic when police arrived, and the officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away. He also announced that a reward for information leading to the shooter’s capture would be offered Thursday and that the FBI would aid the investigation.
Authorities said the crime scene investigation had been complicated by a bomb threat that had been called in, forcing police to move members of the media back and close off a large section of the street where the shooting took place.
Among the dead was the church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41, who had been a pastor since he was 18. Pinckney was the youngest African-American elected to the South Carolina legislature when he won office in 1996 at age 23 and had been a state senator since 2000. The other victims were not immediately identified.
Soon after Wednesday night’s shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street. Early Thursday, a family assistance center was set up for families of the victims at a nearby hotel, according to city officials. The center will be staffed by local, state and federal victim services personnel and the Charleston Coastal Chaplaincy.
Amid the prayers and disbelief, was a simmering anger. Community organizer Christopher Cason told The Associated Press he felt certain the shootings were racially motivated.
“I am very tired of people telling me that I don’t have the right to be angry,” Cason said. “I am very angry right now.”
Authorities said the shooting took place at approximately 9 p.m. local time. Police would not immediately confirm the identities of the victims. Mullen said there were survivors, but did not say how many, or how many were inside the church at the time of the shooting.
Dot Scott, the president of the Charleston NAACP, told the Post and Courier newspaper that she had spoken with a female survivor who said the gunman told the woman he was letting her live so she could tell others what had happened.
“There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of Scripture,” NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks said in a statement Thursday. “Today I mourn as an AME minister, as a student and teacher of scripture, as well as a member of the NAACP.”
Police described the suspect as wearing a gray sweatshirt with blue jeans and Timberland boots.
The church is a well-known landmark in Charleston, known as “The Holy City” because of its many houses of worship and denominations. The church traces its roots to 1816 when African-American members of the city’s Methodist Episcopal Church, led by a freed slave, broke away to form their own congregation. The church was burned to the ground in the 1820s, and rebuilt a decade later.
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. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley issued a statement calling the shooting a “senseless tragedy.”
“While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivated anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” Haley said.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. posted a series of Twitter message about the tragedy. “My heart is breaking for Charleston and South Carolina tonight,” one of them read.
The 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.