Dylann Storm Roof was arrested by police Thursday morning in connection with the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Wednesday evening, where nine people were killed.
According to police, Roof, 21, of Lexington, S.C., is suspected to have joined a bible study group at the church Wednesday night around 8 p.m. local time, staying for about an hour before opening fire, killing six women and three men. Greg Mullen, Charleston’s police chief, described the shooting as a “hate crime”: all nine victims were black; Roof is white.
Eight victims died at the scene—one died en route to the hospital. South Carolina state Sen. Larry Grooms confirmed to CNN that three people survived the shooting. The family of a five-year-old girl inside the church during the attack told WCIV that she survived “by playing dead.”
Roof was arrested by police in Shelby, N.C. about 14 hours after the shooting, roughly 200 miles away from Charleston. Mullen told reporters Wednesday that authorities “don’t have any reason to believe anyone else was involved."
Confirmed among the dead is the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a state senator. Pinckney’s cousin, Sylvia Johnson, relayed to NBC News that a survivor of the shooting told her that the shooter reloaded his weapon “five times,” reportedly telling churchgoers, “‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you are taking over our country. And you have to go.”
In a Facebook profile photo widely circulated Thursday, Roof can be seen wearing a jacket with two flags: One similar to the flag of the Republic of South Africa during the Apartheid era; the other matches the flag of the African nation of Rhodesia, which is now known as Zimbabwe.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI have opened their own hate crime investigation into the shooting.
“Acts like this have no place in our county and no place in a civilized society,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday at a press conference in Washington. “I want everyone in Charleston and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy to know that we will do everything in our power to help heal this community and make it whole again.”
Speaking from the White House Thursday, President Obama said the shooting “raises questions about a dark part of our history.”
Obama described African Methodist Episcopal as a “sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America,” saying that “communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times."
"But let's be clear,” Obama added. “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. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it."
John Mullins, who claims to have gone to the same high school as Roof, told the Daily Beast that Roof was apparently known for being "kind of wild."
"I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs," Mullins told the Daily Beast. "He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don't really take them seriously like that. You don't really think of it like that."
Carson Cowles—the suspect’s uncle, who said he identified his nephew from wanted posters—told Reuters that Roof was gifted a .45-caliber pistol by his father for his 21st birthday. He described his nephew as “quiet and soft-spoken.”
Roof was out on bond for a previous drug and trespassing charge from earlier this year, the Post and Courier reports.
Roof's roommate, Dalton Tyler, told ABC News that he had been "planning something like that for six months."
“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler, who'd met Roof "seven months to a year ago," told ABC News. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
Tywanza Sanders, one of the victims, posted a Snapchat video last night that appears to feature Roof in the top right corner.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church describes itself as “one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland” and has been designated by the National Park Service as a national historic place.
The church’s “roots stem from a religious group of free blacks and slaves,” who under the leadership of Morris Brown, started their own 1,4000-person strong congregation in 1816. Brown would be imprisoned two years later for violating a law prohibiting the co-mingling “of slaves and free blacks independent of white supervision.”
AME served as the planning ground for an unsuccessful slave rebellion in 1822. Spearheaded by Denmark Vesey—one of the church’s founders and a former slave in Virgin Islands who bought his freedom from his master for $600—they planned to have slaves kill their masters in the night as they slept and then flee to Haiti, where slaves had successfully overtaken their French overlords 20 years earlier.
The revolt was foiled when one of Vesey’s co-conspirators told his owner of the planned attack, leading to the beating and hanging of Vesey and his comrades and the church being burned to the ground. The church was rebuilt and then closed in 1834 when black churches were outlawed; the congregation continued to gather until the end of the Civil War. AME was destroyed again by an earthquake in 1886 before the current building that stands in Charleston today was constructed in 1891.
The church would go on to host marches for the civil rights movement and a speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
Aleksander Chan is Fusion's News Director.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.
Patrick Hogan is a reporter for Fusion based out of New York. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.