The police chief in Charleston says the white man suspected of killing nine people inside a historic black church has been captured in North Carolina. Chief Greg Mullen says 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof was arrested Thursday during a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina.
Police have identified the suspect in a fatal shooting that killed nine people at a historic black church in downtown Charleston as 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Lexington, South Carolina.
Mullen said previously that Roof stayed at a prayer meeting for nearly an hour on Wednesday night before he opened fire, killing three males and six females. Among the dead was state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Names of the other victims haven’t been released. Officials have said they are waiting until families are notified.
Court records show that Roof has one felony drug case pending against him, a past misdemeanor trespassing charge and no other criminal record in the state.
The state and county court records show that Roof had no adult criminal history in South Carolina until March, when he was arrested in Lexington County on felony drug possession charges. That case is pending. Count records list no attorney to try to reach for comment.
In April, state police say that Roof, of Lexington, was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing in Lexington County. No further details on that charge were immediately available.
“We have a total of 9 victims that were involved in this very tragic situation that occurred last night. Of the victims there are 3 males and six females victims in this tragedy,” Mullen said.
MSNBC reported that in an interview with NBC affiliate station WIS, a woman claiming to be Pinckney’s cousin relayed an account from a survivor in the room.
“She said that he had reloaded five different times and her son was trying to talk him out of doing that, killing people, and he just said, ‘I have to do it’ and he said, ‘You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go,’” she said.
Maps showing the the cities of Charleston, South Carolina — where the shooting occurred — and Shelby, North Carolina, where Roof was arrested at a traffic stop at U.S. 74 and Plato-Lee Road. Google Maps driving directions estimates it would take a little under four hours to drive from Charleston straight through to Shelby. Below, a detail of where the Emmanuel AME Church is.
The Charleston church is one of the largest and oldest black congregations in the South, according to its website. It has its roots in the early 19th century, and was founded in part by a freed slave who was later executed for organizing a revolt, according to the U.S. National Park Service.
“This tragedy that we are addressing right now is indescribable,” Mullen said. “We are committed to do whatever is necessary to bring this individual to justice.”
The attack follows the April shooting of an unarmed black man in neighboring North Charleston by a white police officer. The officer has been charged with murder in that case, one of a number of deaths of unarmed black men in encounters with police that have raised racial tensions in the United States.
The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other agencies have joined in the investigation, Mullen said.
Eight victims were found dead in the church, Mullen said, and a ninth died after being taken to hospital. Three people survived the attack. Officials did not immediately identify the victims.
Early on Thursday, Mullen released photos of the suspect taken from the church, as well as of a black sedan that he was seen leaving in. Mullen added there was “no reason to believe” that he was not in the Charleston area.
Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state House of Representatives at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.
“He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should,” Rutherford said. “He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody.”
Mullen said he believed the attack was a hate crime and a Justice Department spokesman said federal officials were opening a hate crime investigation. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to be quoted by name because the federal investigation had not been announced.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. called the shooting “an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind.”
“Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained,” Riley said. “We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family.”
A few bouquets of flowers tied to a police barricade formed a small but growing memorial Thursday morning a block away from the church.
Charleston residents Samuel Ward and Evangeline Simmons stood silently at the barricade with arms around each other.
“It’s like it’s just trying to strip away part of your faith,” Simmons said. “But it just makes you stronger.”
In a statement, Cornell William Brooks, head of the civil rights group NAACP, condemned the shooting.
“There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture,” Brooks said.
The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighboring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area. The officer has been charged with murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.
Soon after Wednesday night’s shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.
Community organizer Christopher Cason said 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.”
Even before Scott’s shooting in April, Cason said he had been part of a group meeting with police and local leaders to try to shore up relations.
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 King Center (@TheKingCenter) June 18, 2015
Compiled from Reuters and Associated Press wires