Charlestown shooting: White suspect held over hate crime

Alleged gunman Dylann Roof (21) arrested over killings at African-American church

The man suspected of killing nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina is moved from the Shelby, North Carolina jail, where he was arrested. Video: Reuters


A 21-year-old white man suspected of killing nine people at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, was arrested yesterday after an attack that police are investigating as a hate crime.

Law enforcement officials arrested alleged gunman Dylann Roof at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, about 350 kilometres north of Charleston, said police chief Gregory Mullen.

“This individual committed a tragic, heinous crime last night,” Mullen told reporters.

US attorney general Loretta Lynch said her office was investigating whether to charge Roof with a hate crime motivated by racial or other prejudice. Such crimes typically carry harsher penalties.

The victims, six females and three males, included Rev Clementa Pinckney, who was the church’s pastor and a Democratic member of the state senate.

Roof sat with churchgoers inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for about an hour on Wednesday before opening fire, Mullen said, adding that police believe Roof acted alone.

Eight victims were found dead in the church, Mullen said, and a ninth died after being taken to hospital. Three people survived the attack.

The gunman told one survivor he would let her live so she could tell others what had happened, president of the Charleston National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People Dot Scott told the local Post and Courier newspaper.

Gunman’s words A cousin of Pinckney’s, Sylvia Johnson, told MSNBC that a survivor of the shooting described the gunman reloading five times during the attack on a Bible-study group. Pinckney tried to talk him out of it, she said. “He just said: ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country,” Johnson said.

“It is a very, very sad day in South Carolina, but it is a day that we will get through,” South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, told reporters. “Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that’s not something we ever thought we’d deal with.”

The 197-year-old church nicknamed “Mother Emanuel” is one of the oldest African-American Episcopal churches in the southeastern United States. It was burned to the ground in the late 1820s after a slave revolt led by one of its founders.

Five of the dead, four women and one man, were ministers at the church, said William Dudley Gregorie, a Charleston city councilman, as he left a memorial vigil.

Victims named Other victims included three church pastors: DePayne Middleton Doctor (49), Sharonda Coleman Singleton (45) and Reverend Daniel Simmons (74); Cynthia Hurd (54) an employee of the Charleston County Public Library; cousins Susie Jackson (87) and Ethel Lance (70); Tywanza Sanders (26); and Myra Thompson (59), an associate pastor at the church, according to the county coroner.

The mass shooting on Wednesday followed months of racially charged protests over the killings of black men, which have shaken the United States.

A white police officer was charged with murder after he shot Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in April in neighboring North Charleston. – Reuters