Details emerge about Charleston church shooting suspect Dylan Storm Roof

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CHARLESTON — When Dylann Storm Roof turned 21 in April, his father bought him a .45-caliber gun, a senior law enforcement source briefed on the investigation said Thursday.

It’s not known whether that handgun was used when Roof allegedly opened fire Wednesday night at a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people.

“You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of the church’s slain pastor, said the gunman told his victims, according to CNN affiliate WIS. She cited survivors of the shooting.

In the sparse details that have emerged about his life, none would suggest that he was capable of such hatred and violence.

Police in his hometown of Columbia — about 120 miles northwest of Charleston — obtained a warrant for his arrest in early March. He had been picked up by police on drug charges a few days earlier at Columbiana Centre mall, according to a police report.

Workers at two stores told mall security that Roof was acting strangely, asking “out of the ordinary questions” such as the number of sales associates and what time they left the mall, the police report said.

When a police confronted him, Roof “began speaking very nervously and stated that his parents were pressuring him to get a job,” according to the police report. Roof told the officer that he had not picked up any employment applications.

Banned from mall

Roof initially said he was not carrying anything illegal. But after he agreed to be searched, the officer found “a small unlabeled white bottle containing multiple orange … square strips” in his jacket, the police report said.

Roof told the officer the bottle contained Listerine breath strips.

When the officer asked again, Roof said the strips were suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addiction, according to the police report. Roof said he got the strips from a friend.

Though Roof was arrested on a drug possession charge that day in late February, it’s unclear why the March 1 arrest warrant was issued.

On April 26, police were again called to Columbiana Centre because of Roof, who had been banned from the mall for a year after his drug arrest, a police report said. The mall ban was extended to three years.

Roof was arrested that day in late April on a charge of trespassing; his car was turned over to his mother. The disposition of that case is also unclear.

John Mullins, who attended White Knoll High School with Roof, told CNN on Thursday that the suspect sometimes made racist comments and was “kind of wild” but not violent. Mullins also said Roof had some black friends.

“He was … calm,” Mullins said. “That’s why all this is such a shock.”

Roof repeated the ninth grade at White Knoll High School in Lexington County, according to Mary Beth Hill of the Lexington School District. She described him as “very transient,” adding that he “came and went.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said his niece, Emily, was in an eighth-grade English class with Roof.

“He was quiet, strange, very unsocial and everyone thought he was on drugs,” Graham said of the suspect, relaying the description from his Emily and sister Darline Graham Nordone.

The niece did not recall Roof making statements related to race, Graham said.

“I just think he was one of these whacked-out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that,” said Graham, who is running for president. “It’s about a young man who is obviously twisted.”

On Wednesday night, the white and slightly built gunman was at the historic African-American church for about an hour, attending a meeting with his eventual victims, before the massacre, according to Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen.

Witnesses told investigators the gunman stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people,” a law enforcement official said.

The victims “were killed because they were black,” Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis told CNN on Thursday. Francis was asked what led authorities to investigate the shooting as a hate crime.

Investigators are looking into whether Roof had links to white supremacist or other hate groups, a law enforcement official said. There is no indication so far that he was known to law enforcement officials who focus on hate groups.

In an image tweeted by authorities in Berkeley County, South Carolina, Roof seen is wearing a jacket with what appear to be the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that a white minority ruled until it became independent in 1980 and changed its name to Zimbabwe.

Roof was armed when he was arrested Thursday in Shelby, North Carolina — about a 3½-hour drive north-northwest of Emanuel AME Church, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. It’s not clear if it’s the same firearm used in the shootings.

Police had earlier said that Roof, of Lexington, South Carolina, might have been driving a black Hyundai with vehicle tag LGF330. He was arrested after a traffic stop prompted by a tip from a citizen, police said.

Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen told a news conference that officers “have obtained surveillance videos of the suspect in this case and a suspect vehicle.”

Mullen said the suspect was a “younger white male between 21 and 25 years of age, 5-foot-9 in height” and “has a very distinctive sweatshirt that has markings.”

Mullen emphasized the suspect is “a very dangerous individual.”

Woman spared by shooter to give account?

A female survivor told family members that the gunman told her he was letting her live to tell everyone else what happened, Dot Scott, president of the local branch of the NAACP, told CNN.

Scott said she had not spoken to the survivor directly but had heard this account repeated at least a dozen times as she met with relatives of the victims Wednesday night. Scott added that she didn’t know if the survivor had ended up at the hospital or being questioned by police.

Because of the church’s historic significance, it is not unusual for visitors, whether white or black, to visit it, Scott said. She said she’d had no indication that any children were among the victims.

Mullen told the news conference the suspect had been in the church attending a meeting that was going on — and “stayed there almost an hour with the group before the actual event.”

But he declined to comment on whether the suspect had let one woman escape.

‘Distinctive’ license plate

The suspect was seen leaving the church in a black four-door sedan, the flier says. “The vehicle you will see has a very distinctive front license plate,” Mullen added, but did not give further details on what made it stand out.

He appealed for the media to help in circulating the suspect’s image and for the public to be vigilant. The clean-shaven man pictured wears a gray sweatshirt over a white T-shirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots.

Police are “going through all kinds of video” and trying to identify any private or public video that may show anything useful for the investigation, Mullen said.

“No one in this community will ever forget this night and as a result of this and because of the pain and the hurt this individual has caused this entire community, the law enforcement agents are committed and we will catch this individual,” he said.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley described the suspect as “somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind.”

The man is a “no-good, horrible person,” he said. “Of course we will make sure he pays the price for this horrible act.”

Six of those killed in Wednesday night’s attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were female and three male. The victims included the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

A statement from the Georgia branch of the NAACP said, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”


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  • "peety"

    On Q13 comments, you are free to use racial slurs, free to use FBombs, free to attack other commenters, but GOD FORBID you say anything about the NRA.

    that’s four comments wiped this am for those keeping score.

    • greg

      Peety, you’re an idiot

      nra had as much to do with this as ama has to do with bike gangs or wa liquor board with drunk driving

      this is a senseless tragedy caused by a crazed / drugged person

      it’s the person.

    • dg54321

      Don’t cry too hard about the mods removing your trolling. I’m sure you can always just sign up for another alt to troll with seeing as that’s what you do.

  • Robin Hager

    How any FATHER could give a strung out kid a GUN for his birthday is beyond me. I guess his parents have been covering for his sorry ass his entire life. Those poor people and their families have my deepest sympathy. It makes me sick to my stomach to see this kind of hatred.

    • dg54321

      Straw purchase. He was 21 and therefore an adult. Hope the parents are held responsible for their crime that led to a far greater one.

    • Joann

      They are rednecks from nowhere. It’s really not that shocking. There are tons of losers in this country that have losers for parents who do this kind of crap everyday. Look at Sandy Hook. Loser mom who doesn’t want to face her sons mental illness gives him a gun that he kills get with.

  • Lauren

    Could someone please make sure the spelling of DylanN’s name in the headline is correct? Given that my brother, DylaN Roof -also of Lexington, SC- is completely innocent, it’s a nightmare to receive hate messages from people who don’t bother to look at pictures or name spellings. Not to mention, it’s a matter of making sure that my entirely innocent brother remains safe!

  • Mat

    Left wing right wing shut the f up. Know one is dancing in the streets over this atrocity. Just another lost soul that did not get the help he needed. Way to go dad Buy him a gun for his birthday.

  • Grant Wesley Parks

    “I just think he was one of these whacked-out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that,” said Graham. Translation: “I don’t like to think about and understand people, so I paint them with the broadest of classifications based on no information regarding the individual.” Sounds a lot like what motivated Mr. Roof.

  • Linda Adkins-Smith

    God bless these people that lost their loved ones. It is a very heartbreaking tragedy for several people. But let’s not lose the scope of the problem. Some would believe it to be a (mind you a means one) gun and I am a believer that people kill … not guns. You can take every gun away from every law abiding citizen but if drug addicts have it in mind to do something like this they will find a gun, legal or not. There are 30,000 people killed from handguns each year and firearms are the primary cause of death to Blacks between the ages of 15 – 24. However nearly 44,000 people die from drug overdoses every year and that is just counting the actual death of somebody, it doesn’t count how many lives are destroyed from addiction which is estimated to be 22,000,000 people. I don’t see the government building rehabs, or making laws to protect us from these people. Why guns? Why not try to get a handle on the drug addictions that are happening every day that are destroying our economy, increasing our health costs, and making zombie out of people that once had thriving lives. This kid was caught with suboxone, which I understand is something they give you for opiate addiction.

    • Joann

      No it’s not. Send your kids to a private church school if that’s what you want. Leave the public alone. Not everyone believes what you do.

  • Brian

    I love how when we have a mass shooting, I’ll read about it and see comments like “You’re the idiot” or “No YOU’RE the idiot.” Of course there are ones that are like “Humans have died, so sad.” Let me tell you whats wrong with you keyboard warriors. Humans die every day, get over it. Whether it’s a hate crime, disease, or accidental or whatever, it’s going on RIGHT THIS MOMENT. You want to cut down on mass shootings, STOP TALKING about it. We are giving these scumbags exactly what they want, validation for their pathetic non-factor lives. Let them die the way they lived, as NOBODIES. To all you people that say “guns are bad” how about you look at the statistics of how many times a gun has stopped a mass shooting or saved lives. It literally outweighs the lives lost by at least 100 to 1. But you won’t, you soak up EVERY word your liberal overlords feed you without questioning it once. “Oh well, other countries gun crime is lower.” True! Then look at their violent crime statistics when compared to ours like rape, they are always higher. ALWAYS. Guns are not the problem, they never have been. Before anyone tells me, “Oh, well what about my right to feel safe?” Well guess what guy, you do not have that right. Want to feel safe? Buy a gun and learn how to use it. It’s not the police’s job to protect you, it’s yours. You are just plain irresponsible if you trust in someone else to save your life during a tragedy like this. On average it takes 10 minutes for the police to show up in America, by the time they show up, you’ve been dead for 9.5 minutes. Should’ve shot back, at least you’d have had a chance.

  • Gary

    Check his computer. Every pscyho who has done this in the past year has left videos and other evidence on their computer indicating their true nature (what appeals to them).

  • GBW

    I think it would be appropriate for the shooter’should family to reach out to the families of the victims and express their regret and sympathy.

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