CHARLESTON — Dylann Roof admits he did it, two law enforcement officials said — shooting and killing nine people he’d sat with for Bible study at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina,
But why? To start a race war, Roof told investigators, according to one of the officials.
Others have given a glimpse into the twisted motivations of Roof, who is white, to shoot up the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Sylvia Johnson told CNN that a survivor told her he’d answered pleas to stop by saying, “No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.”
His roommate told ABC News that Roof was “big into segregation.” And the Berkeley County, South Carolina, government tweeted a picture of him wearing a jacket with flags from apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that was ruled by a white minority until it became independent in 1980.
By telling authorities his aim, Roof admitted he attacked unarmed civilians for political purposes in an act of terror.
What led the 21-year-old South Carolinian to adopt this sick reasoning and take such actions Wednesday night? Did anyone else help him or even know about his plans? And what is his general mental state? Are all major, looming questions. Another is what American society should or will do now, if anything, to prevent similar tragedies.
In the meantime, a community — and nine families, in particular — are left to mourn.
Roommate: ‘He wanted something big like Trayvon Martin’
While he may not say much, Roof should get his first chance to speak up in court Friday for a presumed bond hearing.
Authorities and the public are trying to piece together how he got there.
John Mullins recalls “racist slurs in a sense” that Roof made while the two attended White Knoll High School in Lexington, South Carolina, though he also remembers him having black friends.
“He would say it just as a joke,” Mullins told CNN. “I never took it seriously. But … maybe they should have been.”
Joey Meek told ABC that talk of reinstating segregation was nothing new for Roof, his roommate. He’d been plotting something for six months, though “he never did any of that,” and authorities weren’t tipped off.
“I think he wanted something big like Trayvon Martin,” Meek said, referring to the black Florida teen whose shooting death at the hands of George Zimmerman — who was acquitted of murder — provoked huge protests. “He wanted to make something spark up the race war again.”
Officials: Suspect bought a gun in April
It’s one thing to talk of stirring racial hatred, another to act on it to kill nine innocent people — including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who had welcomed Roof into the Bible study session.
One key part of this horrific scheme — the weapon — came in April, when Roof bought a .45-caliber handgun at a Charleston gun store, according to the two law enforcement officials. His grandfather says that Roof was given “birthday money” and that the family didn’t know what Roof did with it.
He apparently didn’t hint at his intentions when he went to the historic church Wednesday. A Snapchat video shows him at a table with a small group, not anything to suggest the carnage to come.
When the Bible study ended after about an hour, “they just heard just a ringing of a loud noise,” Johnson said, relaying a survivor’s account.
From what Johnson heard, the gunman reloaded five times. Six women died at the scene, as did two men — with a third, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., passing away later during surgery. Johnson said her friend played dead, lying in the blood of her slain son.
Before Roof left the church, he asked one of the elderly members whether he had shot her, and she said no.
“And he said, ‘Good, because we need a survivor because I’m going to kill myself,’ ” Johnson told CNN.
Woman spotted, followed suspect’s car
Roof then took off, hopping into his car and heading north.
Debbie Dills spotted a vehicle matching the description given by authorities, noticing the South Carolina license plate.
“I don’t know what drew my attention to the car,” Dills told CNN. “In my mind I’m thinking, ‘That can’t be.’ … I never dreamed that it would be the car.”
She followed him more than 30 miles, keeping authorities updated along the way.
Police in Shelby, North Carolina — about 245 miles (395 kilometers) from Charleston — then pulled him over and took him into custody.
He then waived extradition and returned to South Carolina late Thursday. He could face his first court appearance, in this case, in his home state as early as Friday for a possible bond hearing.
Federal authorities have opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting at the oldest AME church in the South, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Said Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, “The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate.”