Criminal Justice

Hate-crime investigation launched after suspect captured in Charleston church shooting

  • Print

Dylann Roof

Photo of Dylann Roof from the Berkeley County Government Twitter account.

Updated: A 21-year-old white man accused of fatally shooting nine people Wednesday night during a bible-study meeting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been captured.

Charleston police chief Gregory Mullen said Dylann Roof was taken into custody Thursday without incident, following a traffic stop 250 miles away in Shelby, North Carolina, reports Reuters. “This individual committed a tragic, heinous crime last night,” Mullen told reporters, describing the shootings as a hate crime.

Authorities said Roof himself attended the Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for nearly an hour before opening fire and made little or no effort to conceal his identity, reports the Charleston Post and Courier. Images captured on surveillance footage and his license plate number helped track him down. Photos released by law enforcement during the search show Roof wearing a jacket with what appear to be apartheid-era flags from South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Dot Scott, the president of the Charleston NAACP, said a survivor told family members the suspect said he was allowing her to live so that she could tell others what had happened.

“I can confirm that there is a subject in custody in relation to the shootings in Charleston from last evening,” said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a Thursday press conference. “And, of course, this moves us into a different phase of the investigation, which will be pursued as vigorously and with as complete cooperation as the apprehension of this individual.”

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are cooperating with local authorities as the Department of Justice pursues a civil rights investigation. According to Reuters, South Carolina is one of only five states which has no hate crimes law. On Friday, DOJ spokeswoman Emily Pierce announced that they would also be investigating the killings as “an act of domestic terrorism,” Reuters reports.

Among the victims killed in the attack was the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a longtime Democratic state senator. Pinckney was the youngest African American ever elected to the state legislature, winning a place in the South Carolina’s house of representatives at the age of 23 in 1996, according to his profile on the church website. He has served in the senate since 2000.

Three people survived the shooting, including a 5-year-old girl who played dead, reports WCIV.

President Barack Obama, who knew Pinckney personally, gave a speech on Thursday about the shooting. He called for a national conversation about gun violence.

“Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

On Friday, Roof appeared before Charleston County Chief Magistrate James Gosnell and was charged with nine counts of murder and one charge of possession of a firearm during a violent crime. Gosnell set the bail for the gun charge at $1 million, but by law no bail could be set for the murder charges, the Post and Courier reports. On Thursday, 9th Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson of the General Sessions Court was assigned by the state supreme court’s Chief Justice Jean Toal to hear all pretrial motions and conduct the trial.

ABC News, CNN and the New York Times (reg. req.) also have stories.

Related coverage:

The New Yorker: “Murders in Charleston”

Washington Post (reg. req.): “Shaken Charleston mayor: ‘Far too many guns out there’”

See also:

New York Times (reg. req.): “Pastor Was an Influential Figure From the Start”

Updated on July 19 to add new information from the Department of Justice spokesperson, and the events from the bail hearing.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.