CHARLESTON, S.C. (CBS Atlanta/AP) — The suspect behind the deadly Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting has been caught.
Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina, nearly three hours away from Emanuel AME Church.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley says Roof was arrested during a traffic stop.
Roof is accused of killing nine people, including the pastor, at the historically black church. Authorities called it a hate crime. CBS News reports worshippers were at the church at the time for Bible study.
Court records show that Roof has one felony drug case pending against him, a past misdemeanor trespassing charge and no other criminal record in the state.
In April, state police say that Roof, of Lexington, was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing in Lexington County. No further details on that charge were immediately available.
The victims of the shooting were six females and three males, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said Thursday morning.
The FBI will aid the investigation, Mullen told a news conference that was attended by FBI Special Agent in Charge David A. Thomas.
Mullen said in a press conference Thursday morning that the gunman was sitting in a prayer meeting in the church for an hour before the shooting.
President Barack Obama said that he knows several members of Emanuel AME Church, including the pastor who was killed.
“Any death of this sort is a tragedy, any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy,” Obama said. “There’s something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place where we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.”
Obama also touched on the subject of gun control during his speech, saying he’s had to make speeches like these too many times because “someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency and it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclosed a lot of those avenues right now, but it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.”
The Justice Department is opening a hate crime investigation into the shooting.
“Acts like this one have no place in our country,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a news conference in Washington. “They have no place in a civilized society.
“The individual who committed these unspeakable acts will be found and will face justice,” Lynch added. “We will do everything in our power to heal this community and make it whole again.”
Lynch said this crime “has reached into the heart of that community.”
Lynch also confirmed that there is a suspect in custody.
It’s particularly provocative because black churches have been targeted so often. They were bombed in the 1960s, when they served as organizing hubs for the Civil Rights movement. A rash of arsons in the 1990s targeted black churches in the South. Other congregations have survived shooting sprees.
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. Roof had worn that sweatshirt over to their house many times as they played Xbox videogames in recent weeks, she added.
Roof also displayed a Confederate flag on his license plate, she said. State court records show only one pending felony drug case against him, and a past misdemeanor trespassing charge.
“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.”
Riley called the shooting “the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy.”
“The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate,” Riley said. “It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine, and we will bring that person to justice. … This is one hateful person.”
Riley said Thursday morning that there are “far too many guns out there.”
State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told The Associated Press that the church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.
Pinckney 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state house 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, D-Columbia, said. “He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody.”
This shooting “should be a warning to us all that we do have a problem in our society,” said state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat whose district includes the church. “We need action. There’s a race problem in our country. There’s a gun problem in our country. We need to act on them quickly.”
Pinckney’s cousin told WAFF-TV that the gunman specifically asked for the reverend before Bible study and sat next to him before opening fire. The cousin says survivors told her that the gunman told them, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighboring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area. 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.
In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolinians to pray for the victims and their families and decried violence at religious institutions.
“We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” Haley said.
Soon after Wednesday night’s shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.
Community organizer Christopher Cason said he felt certain the shootings were racially motivated.
“I am very tired of people telling me that I don’t have the right to be angry,” Cason said. “I am very angry right now.”
NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said in a statement that the gunman is a “coward.”
“The NAACP was founded to fight against racial hatred and we are outraged that 106 years later, we are faced today with another mass hate crime. Our heartfelt prayers and soul-deep condolences go out to the families and community of the victims at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church,” Brooks said in a statement. “The senselessly slain parishioners were in a church for Wednesday night bible study. There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture. Today I mourn as an AME minister, as a student and teacher of scripture, as well as a member of the NAACP.”
Even before Scott’s shooting in April, Cason said he had been part of a group meeting with police and local leaders to try to shore up relations.
The Emmanuel AME church is a historic African-American 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.
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