Suspect in Charleston church rampage captured in North Carolina

by Raheem Karim

Dylann Storm Roof, who sported white supremacy patches on his Facebook page and reportedly got a new handgun for his 21st birthday in April, was captured in North Carolina Thursday 14 hours after he allegedly shot and killed nine people in a historic black church in downtown Charleston during a Bible study meeting.

Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said Roof was “cooperative” when police in Shelby, N.C., acting on a tip, took him into custody 245 miles northwest of Charleston.

Roof was suspected by police as the lone gunman within hours of the bloody attack on the Emanuel AME Church around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Asked if authorities believe Roof had acted alone, Mullen said “we don’t have any reason to believe anyone else was involved.”

The killer walked into the church and sat with the Bible group for about an hour before pulling out a semi-automatic handgun and firing, reloading, and firing again.

Among the dead — three men and six women — was the pastor of the church, 41-year-old Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator. At the South Carolina State House Thursday, a black drape and a red rose were put over his desk. Flags in the state are flying at half-staff because of the tragedy.

One of the victims died after being taken to the hospital. Three people survived, police said.

Sylvia Johnson, Pinckney’s cousin, said one of the survivors told her that the gunman reloaded five times during the ordeal.

At one point, members of the group tried to get him to stop, Johnson told WIS News. “He just said ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,'” Johnson said.

Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP, said the gunman apparently allowed one woman to live so that she could tell others what happened inside the church.

President Obama addressed the nation, expressing sorrow for the tragedy at “a sacred place in the history of Charleston, the history of America.” Obama, who said he knew Pinckney, said the country must eventually address the issue of gun violence.

“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” Obama said, adding “People were killed because someone who wanted to do harm had no trouble getting a gun.”

One federal law enforcement official said it was unclear whether the suspect actually took part in the prayer meeting during the hour before he began speaking racially charged epithets and then opened fire.

Because of the deadly precision of his attack, investigators believe he fired at fairly close range, the official said.

Investigators were trying to determine if the suspect had been to the church before, but there was no immediate video surveillance to support that, the official said.

Within a few hours of the shooting, police were circulating surveillance photos taken outside the church that showed a suspect in a gray sweatsuit and boots and sporting a bowl haircut. He was seen parking his black, four-door sedan and walking into the church.

Acting on tips from the public, police quickly identified the suspect as Roof, who went to high school in Lexington and listed his home address after a recent arrest for trespassing as Eastover S.C.

A Facebook page for Dylann Roof includes a photo of him standing in a swamp of bare cypress tress hung with Spanish moss and wearing a jacket with patches of the racist-era flags of apartheid South Africa and of Rhodesia, the once white-ruled country now called Zimbabwe.

Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, said the patches could provide clues as to his ideological views.

“No one randomly puts those particular images on clothing or Facebook profiles,” said Pitcavage. “That implies intent and a particular world view. This is not someone simply motivated by hate but may have been motivated by a particular ideology as well.”

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.”

Lexington County, S.C., court records show Roof was arrested on March 2 on criminal possession of a controlled substance. The records indicate it may be a first offense. The case is pending. He was also jailed on April 26 on a trespassing charge.

Roof’s childhood friend, Joey Meek, alerted the FBI after recognizing him in a surveillance camera image, said Meek’s mother, Kimberly Konzny, the Associated Press reports. Roof had worn the same sweatshirt while playing Xbox videogames in their home recently.

“I don’t know what was going through his head,” Konzny said. “He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends.

The suspect’s uncle, Carson Cowles, 56, tells Reuters that he recognized the young man in the surveillance photo as his nephew. Cowles said Roof was given a gun by his father as a 21st birthday present in April.

The incident shook the normally peaceful community that is a magnet for tourists, particularly in the summer.

“No one in this community will forget this night,” said Mullen, who called the killings a “hate crime.”

In Washington, the Justice Department said its Civil Rights Division, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina are opening a hate crime investigation into the shooting.

Mayor Joseph Riley called the killings “the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.”

“The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate,” Riley said. “It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. … This is one hateful person.”

Deadly rampage: We have seen it before

The site is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church.

Pinckney, the slain pastor, was a married father of two who was elected to the state Legislature 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, D-Columbia, said. “He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody.”

Emanuel is the oldest AME church in the South and has one of the oldest and largest black congregations south of Baltimore, according to its website. Denmark Vesey, executed for attempting to organize a major slave rebellion in 1822, was one of the founders.

Said Police Chief Mullen: “This is a tragedy that no community should have to experience. It is senseless. It is unfathomable that someone would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives.”

Pinckney was a native of Beaufort, S.C., and graduated magna cum laude from Allen University in 1995. He received a master’s of divinity degree from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Carolina. He was elected to the South Carolina House in 1996, when he was 23, and was elected to the state Senate in 2000.

Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement: “The NAACP was founded to fight against racial hatred and we are outraged that 106 years later, we are faced today with another mass hate crime.

“There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”

Contributing: Kevin Johnson in Washington; Alan Gomez, in Miami; Kevin McCoy in New York; Tyler Pager in McLean, Va.; Jane Onyanga-Omara

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