On June 17, a young, white male gunman opened fire inside a predominantly black Charleston church, killing at least nine people who had gathered inside for a prayer group. The man identified as the shooter—21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof—was apprehended 14 hours later in North Carolina. Here’s what we know so far.
He Has a Criminal Record
Mr. Roof had two prior brushes with the law, both in recent months, according to court records. In February, he attracted attention at the Columbiana Centre, a shopping mall, by asking store employees “out-of-the-ordinary questions” such as how many people were working and what time they would be leaving, according to a police report. An officer who responded searched him and found Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opiate addiction and frequently sold in illegal street transactions. Mr. Roof admitted that he did not have a prescription for the drug, the report said, and he was arrested and charged with felony drug possession. The case is continuing.
In April, Mr. Roof was charged with trespassing on the roof of the same mall. The police report said he had been banned from the mall for a year after the previous arrest. Mr. Roof was convicted on that charge, a misdemeanor.
He’s Openly Racist
Immediately before opening fire, Roof is said to have shouted at his victims that he was there to “shoot black people.” But his racism was on display long before he entered the church.
In his Facebook profile picture, the 5-foot-9, 120 pound alleged murderer is seen posing in the woods wearing a jacket with flags from both apartheid-era South Africa and the former white supremacist state of Rhodesia. Another photo circulating the internet shows him mugging in front of his black Hyundai Elantra, displaying a license plate with three Confederate flags on it.
“I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” he said. “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.”
But according to the Post and Courier, Roof didn’t stay in school for long: “Lexington County officials said that he dropped out of White Knoll High School in February 2010, when he was in the 10th grade.”
Roof’s uncle, Carson Cowles, says his nephew was “quiet” and lacked motivation.
“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 told Reuters, later telling the Daily News, “He’s a monster, and they need to catch him, and he needs to pay for what he’s done.”
He Told People He Was Planning a Massacre
The 21-year-old suspected gunman told his trailer park friends last week that he wanted to kill people at a local college — but no one took him seriously because of his “deadpan sense of humor,” neighbor Christon Scriven told the Daily News.
“He flat out told us he was going to do this stuff,” said Scriven, who lives in the same Lexington, S.C., trailer park as Roof.
Last Wednesday — exactly one week before the Charleston church massacre — Roof told his friends and neighbors “he was looking to kill a bunch of people on Wednesday” at the College of Charleston, Christon said.
“He’s weird. You don’t know when to take him seriously and when not to,” Christon tells the paper.
He Owned a Gun
Roof was thrilled when his dad gave him a .45 caliber gun when he turned 21 in April, Cowles said. Cowles called him a day later.
“He said, ‘I got to go, I’m outside shooting target practice right now,’” he said.
He Left Survivors So They Could “Tell Everyone What Happened”
Roof reportedly left at least three survivors behind because, as he told one witness, he wanted there to be a record of the shooting.
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Mr. Pinckney’s, said in an interview with NBC News that a survivor of the shooting had told her the gunman reloaded five times. The survivor said the gunman had entered the church and asked for the pastor. Then he sat next to Mr. Pinckney during the Bible study before opening fire.
“I have to do it,” the gunman was quoted as saying. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
He Was “Compliant” When Cops Found Him in North Carolina
Cops reportedly initiated a traffic stop after a resident called in a report of a suspicious vehicle. Roof—who was armed—was said to be compliant and was taken into custody without major incident.
“We had a number of tips that were coming in,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a press conference Thursday. “It was amazing the fact that we had teams ... standing by. Whenever we got a lead ... we sent out teams. It was a tremendous effort.”