Police arrested alleged gunman in Charleston church slayings
CHARLESTON, S.C. — It was an act of “pure, pure concentrated evil,” Charleston's mayor said — a black community's leading lights extinguished by gunfire, allegedly at the hands of a young white man who sat among them through an hour of prayer.
The gunman added nine victims at The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to the list of America's racial casualties, and ripped out part of South Carolina's civic heart.
They included a state senator who doubled as the church's minister, three other pastors, a regional library manager, a high school coach and speech therapist, a government administrator, a college enrollment counselor and a recent college graduate — six women and three men who felt called to open their church to all.
Police arrested Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old who had complained that “blacks were taking over the world” and that “someone needed to do something about it for the white race,” according to a friend who alerted the FBI.
Roof waived extradition and was put on a plane from North Carolina on Thursday afternoon, authorities said. He was being held in a detention center pending a bail hearing, Charleston police tweeted that evening.
President Obama called the tragedy another example of damage wreaked on America by guns. NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people.”
Others bemoaned the loss to a church that has served as a bastion of black power for 200 years, despite efforts by white supremacists to wipe it out.
“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,” said Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. “We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family.”
Surveillance video showed the gunman entering the church Wednesday night. Charleston County Coroner Rae Wilson said the gunman initially did not appear threatening.
“The suspect entered the group and was accepted by them, as they believed that he wanted to join them in this Bible study,” she said. Then “he became very aggressive and violent.”
Dalton Tyler, who described himself as Roof's roommate, told ABC News that Roof was “planning something like that for six months.”
“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler said. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
A childhood friend, Joey Meek, called the FBI on recognizing him in the surveillance footage, down to the stained sweatshirt he wore while playing Xbox video games in Meek's home on the morning of the attack.
“I didn't think it was him. I knew it was him,” Meek said after being interviewed by investigators.
Roof was arrested without incident Thursday in Shelby, N.C., when a motorist spotted him and tipped police.
When Roof was arrested, he reportedly had a Glock .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun that law enforcement officials said he had obtained in April as a birthday gift or purchased with birthday money.
His record includes misdemeanor drug and trespassing charges. He was not known to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., and it's not clear whether Roof had any connection to the 16 white supremacist organizations operating in South Carolina, but he appears to be a “disaffected white supremacist,” based on his Facebook page, said the center's president, Richard Cohen.
Meek said he and Roof had been best friends in middle school, where “he was just a quiet kid who flew under the radar.” Roof then disappeared and showed up again several weeks ago, seeming even more quiet and withdrawn.
On his Facebook page, Roof displayed the flags of defeated white-ruled regimes, posing with a Confederate battle flag plate on his car and wearing a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, which is now black-led Zimbabwe.
And when Meek asked what was troubling Roof, “he started talking about race,” the friend said.
Spilling blood inside “Mother Emanuel,” founded in 1816, evoked painful memories nationwide, a reminder that black churches so often have been the targets of violence.
A church founder, Denmark Vesey, was hanged for trying to organize a slave revolt in 1822, and white landowners burned the church in revenge, leaving parishioners to worship underground until the Civil War ended. The congregation rebuilt the church.
Martin Luther King Jr. brought the 1960s campaign for voting rights to its pulpit.
Its lead pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney — among the dead — recalled his church's history in a 2013 sermon, saying, “We don't see ourselves as just a place where we come to worship, but as a beacon and as a bearer of the culture.”