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Dylann Roof: What we know about the Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect

Dylann Roof, 21, arrested on suspicion of having fatally shot nine people at a historic African-American church in South Carolina made racist comments to a friend and wore a jacket with apartheid-era flags on it.

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, had prior trespassing charge

Friends said Dylann Roof had recently made comments that something had to be done for the 'white race.' (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)

His uncle worried he was cooped up in his room too much. The few images of him found easily online suggest he adhered to a white supremacist ideology. And for his birthday this year, his father bought the young man a pistol.

Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of having fatally shot nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday.

According to police, Roof joined a Bible study group for over an hour before opening fire, killing six women and three men.

Those who know him described as withdrawn and troubled.

Joseph Meek Jr., from Lexington, S.C., told The Associated Press that he had recently reconnected with Roof. The two had been best friends in middle school but lost touch when Roof moved away about five years ago. 

Roof never talked about race years ago when they were friends, but recently made remarks about the killing of unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida and the riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Meek said.

"He said blacks were taking over the world. Someone needed to do something about it for the white race," Meek said. "He said he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. I said, 'That's not the way it should be.' But he kept talking about it."

He said that when he woke up Wednesday morning, Dylann was at his house, sleeping in his car outside. Later that day, Meek went to a nearby lake with a couple of other people, but Roof hated the outdoors and decided he'd rather go see a movie.

'He's got to pay for this'

Roof's family had been worried about him in the years before the shooting. 

His uncle, Carson Cowles, recalled telling his sister, the suspect's mother, several years ago that he was worried about Roof.

Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming.– Carson Cowles, uncle of Dylann Roof

"I said he was like 19 years old, he still didn't have a job, a driver's license 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 said.

Cowles, 56, said Roof's father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday this year, Cowles said.

"I actually talked to him on the phone briefly for just a few moments and he was saying, 'well I'm outside target practicing with my new gun,'" Cowles said, describing a phone call around the time of Roof's birthday in April.

"Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming," Cowles said, speaking shortly before news of Roof's arrest. "If it is him, and when they catch him, he's got to pay for this."

Previous arrest

In February, Roof unnerved employees working at the Columbiana Centre shopping mall in Columbia, S.C., by asking what they told police were unusual questions about staffing levels.

A patrolling police officer was called over. Roof, becoming increasingly nervous, told him "his parents were pressuring him to get a job," according to a Columbia Police Department incident report.

Roof sported a jacket with flags from apartheid-era South Africa (top) and Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, on it. (Facebook)
The officer asked to search him and found an unlabeled bottle filled with strips of buprenorphine, an opioid painkiller that is sometimes misused by people addicted to opioid drugs, which include a range of substances from heroin to oxycodone.

The incident report said Roof tried to pass them off as breath-freshening strips before admitting that a friend had given the prescription-only drug to him, and the officer arrested him for possession of a controlled substance. The case appeared to still be pending, according to county court records.

Columbiana Centre banned Roof for a year, but two months later, police were called to the mall again. Roof, described as 1.75 metres tall and weighing 120 lbs, was arrested in the parking lot for trespassing. His car was turned over to his mother, and the mall increased the ban to three years.

Apartheid-era flags

A Facebook profile apparently belonging to Roof was created earlier this year. The only public photograph on the page is a blurry snap of him stood in front of winter-bare trees, looking glumly at the camera, bowl-cut brown hair falling over his forehead.

In the picture, he wears a black jacket that prominently features the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, from when the two African countries were ruled by the white minority.

The page, which seems to have since been deleted, listed him as having a little over 80 Facebook friends on Thursday morning, but that number appeared to be dropping. 

Hate crime investigation

The U.S. Department of Justice said federal authorities would investigate Wednesday's attack as a hate crime, or one motivated by racism or other prejudice.

Roof grew up shuttling between his parents' homes in South Carolina, according to his uncle. His father, Ben Roof, runs his own construction business, and he remarried after divorcing Dylann Roof's mother.

Roof and his older sister, Amber, lived part of the time with their father and the father's wife, Paige, until Ben and Paige divorced.

A woman who answered the cellphone of the suspect's mother Amelia Roof, also known as Amy, declined to comment on Thursday morning.

"We will be doing no interviews ever," she said, before hanging up.

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