Dylann Roof, suspected gunman, caught after 9 churchgoers fatally shot in Charleston

A tip from a childhood friend helped police identify the suspected gunman in a shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead, police say.

Suspect attended meeting at church, stayed for almost an hour before shooting began, police say

Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Shelby Police Department in Shelby, N.C., on Thursday. He is the suspect in the massacre of nine people Thurday at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)

A tip from a childhood friend helped police identify the suspected gunman in a shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead, police say.

The suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, S.C., was arrested during a traffic stop late Thursday morning in Shelby, N.C., and will be taken back to South Carolina.

Roof's childhood friend, Joey Meek, alerted the FBI after recognizing him in a surveillance camera image that was widely circulated, said Meek's mother, Kimberly Kozny.

In another image circulated by police after the shooting, Roof is seen wearing a sweatshirt bearing the flags of two former white supremacist regimes: apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

He had worn the same sweatshirt while playing Xbox video games in their home recently, Kozny said.

"I don't know what was going through his head," Kozny said. "He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends."

Mourners pray outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen said Roof was stopped after someone saw a vehicle that "they thought was suspicious" and alerted police. Mullen said Roof was co-operative with police when he was stopped.

Police said they don't believe anyone else was involved.

"We will now be looking at all of the facts, all of the motivations, all the things that led this individual — if he is, in fact, the shooter — to commit this crime," said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. "And we will determine which is the best ways in which to prosecute the case."
U.S. Senator Tim Scott, right, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Wendell Gilliard attend a prayer vigil at Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston. (Grace Beahm/Reuters)

Reuters reported that Carson Cowles, Roof's uncle, said he recognized his nephew from photos released by police. Roof received a .45-calibre pistol from his father as a birthday present in April, Cowles said.

Those who know Roof described a withdrawn, troubled young man.

Cowles recalled telling his sister, the suspected gunman's mother, several years ago that he was worried about Roof and that the "quiet, soft-spoken boy" was too introverted.

"I said he was, like, 19 years old, he still didn't have a job, a driver's licence or anything like that, and he just stayed in his room a lot of the time," Cowles said in a telephone interview.

He said he tried to "mentor" his nephew. "He didn't like that, and me and him kind of drifted apart," Cowles told Reuters.

Roof was charged earlier this year for a drug offence and trespassing, Reuters reported, citing court documents.

Pastor among those killed

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who is also a South Carolina state senator, was among the nine victims of Thursday's shooting. (Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church)
An intense manhunt was launched for the shooting suspect, who police said joined a Wednesday evening prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for nearly an hour and then allegedly opened fire inside the church in downtown Charleston. 

The victims include six females and three males. The names of the victims were released Thursday afternoon by the Charleston county coroner, who said autopsies on the bodies would begin Thursday.

The pastor of the church, state Senator Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.

Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state House of Representatives 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 said. "He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody."

Noah Nicolaisen of Charleston, S.C., kneels at a makeshift memorial down the street from the Emanuel AME Church. (David Goldman/Associated Press)
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Pinckney, said she spoke with one of the survivors of the shooting.

"From my understanding, the suspect came to the church and he asked for the pastor ... He sat next to my cousin, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, throughout the entire bible study," Johnson said.

"At the conclusion of the bible study, from what I understand, [the survivors] just started hearing loud noises just ringing out," she said. "The suspect had already wounded a couple of individuals, including my cousin."

Chaotic scene

U.S. President Barack Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, knew members of Emanuel AME Church, including Pinckney.

I've had to make statements like this too many times.- U.S. President Barack Obama

"I've had to make statements like this too many times, " Obama said from the White House.

"At some point we will have to deal with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other countries … with this type of frequency," he said. "And it is in our power to do something about it."

Mullen said he believed the attack was a hate crime and a Justice Department spokesman said federal officials were opening a hate crime investigation. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to be quoted by name because the federal investigation had not been announced.

Lisa Doctor joins a prayer circle early Thursday, following the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Mullen said the scene at the church was chaotic when police arrived, and officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. called the shooting "an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind."

"Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained," Riley said. "We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family."

In a statement, Cornell William Brooks, head of the NAACP civil rights group, condemned the shooting.

"There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture," Brooks said.

The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighbouring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area. Michael Slager, the officer, has been charged with murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.

The Emanuel AME Church, also known as Mother Emmanuel, is a historic black church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church.

One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.

with files from CBC News and Reuters


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