Crime & Courts

Suspect in Charleston massacre surrenders meekly

tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

A man with possible white supremacist leanings – suspected in the merciless slaughter of nine black adults, including an 87-year-old woman, at a prayer meeting in a historic Charleston church – surrendered meekly to Shelby police Thursday.

Dylann Roof, 21, of suburban Columbia, unemployed and already awaiting prosecution on drug possession charges, waived extradition and was returned to South Carolina in handcuffs to face murder charges.

A nationwide manhunt for Roof climaxed after Debbie Dills of Gastonia, alerted by a news broadcast, spotted his car heading west on U.S. 74 Thursday morning and called her boss at Frady’s Florist & Gifts in Kings Mountain.

He called police, and Shelby officers pulled Roof over at 10:44 a.m. at Plato Lee Road.

“I looked at the car and thought, ‘I’ve seen that car before,’” Dills said. “I don’t know why, because I was doing what I normally do, singing and praising the Lord.”

Roof surrendered without incident, said Shelby police Chief Jeff Ledford.

The Washington Post reported that Roof was arrested three miles from the home of his sister’s fiance, Michael Tyo. Roof’s sister, Amber, was due to be married Sunday, according to theknot.com, a wedding website.

Tyo, a recruiter for the U.S. Army Reserve, declined to comment Thursday while packing up his children and the family dog for what appeared to be a trip.

Violence decried

Wednesday’s killings were the worst mass shootings in the United States since 12 died at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 and were decried from the streets of Charleston to the White House.

“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,” President Barack Obama said.

“It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency,” he said, then turned to the issue of gun control. “And it is in our power to do something about it.”

In Charleston, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said the nation was grieving alongside those in South Carolina.

“Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe,” she said, “and that is not something we ever thought we’d deal with.”

Inside the church

Three people survived the attack, and they have not yet been publicly identified. A female trustee, who hid under a table, was among the survivors. The gunman told her he would let her live so that she could tell the story of what happened. Two other survivors, including a young girl, played dead, church members said.

Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of 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 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.”

Those who died at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church:

▪  Cynthia Hurd, oldest sister of former N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte. Hurd was a Charleston librarian for 31 years, “a nerd,” her brother said lovingly. She was to turn 55 on Sunday.

▪  Pastor Clementa Pinckney, 41, also an S.C. state senator who had been in the legislature for 18 years. He leaves a wife and two daughters.

▪  Tywanza Sanders, 26, a recent business graduate from Allen University, a historically black college in Columbia.

▪  Sharonda Singleton, 45.

▪  Myra Thompson, 59.

▪  Ethel Lance, 70.

▪ Susie Jackson, 87.

▪  The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74.

▪  DePayne Doctor, 49, an enrollment counselor at the Charleston campus of Southern Wesleyan University.

Supremacist symbols

On his Facebook page, Roof posted sullen pictures of himself wearing a jacket with emblems of white supremacy, including a flag from the former Rhodesia under white control. Another insignia was of the flag of South Africa under apartheid, which the Anti-Defamation League said has been adopted as a “hate symbol” by white supremacists.

In another Facebook picture, a decorative license tag on the front bumper of Roof’s car said, “Confederate States of America.”

“It is hard to imagine that there could have been any motive other than hate,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement from Mark Moskowitz, Southeast Regional Director.

Grew up near Columbia

Roof attended White Knoll High School in Lexington, S.C.

On Feb. 28, he was charged with first-offense drug possession in Lexington County but had not yet been tried, court records show. Columbia police arrested him at Columbiana Centre mall off Interstate 26 following “a couple of store complaints,” arrest records show.

He had been asking strange questions of clerks, such as how many employees worked there and when they would be closing, police were told.

After he was stopped, police found him carrying a bottle of what was believed to be suboxone pills, widely used to used to treat opiate addiction and for which he did not have a prescription. He told police he was given the vial by an acquaintance.

During his arrest, he told officers “his parents were pressuring him to get a job,” an incident report said.

He was banned from the mall, then charged with trespassing when he returned April 26.

“He was kind of weird in the hyperactive, elementary schooler kind of way, but he was nice,” said Cade McConnell who went to Rosewood Elementary in Columbia with Roof in 2004. “Nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary. He was a little kooky in a seemingly harmless way.”

At the shooting scene

Authorities, relatives and others gave this account of Wednesday night’s killings.

Roof went to Emanuel AME Church as dusk fell. He found a prayer meeting in progress. He spent about an hour with the participants.

Then the massacre began, leaving three men and six women dead.

Roof fled in his black sedan. Authorities identified him from tips after a security video from the scene was made public.

At 5:45 a.m., nearly nine hours after the shootings, Roof used his ATM card at a convenience store at Providence Road and Ballantyne Commons Parkway in Charlotte, which is about a four-hour drive from Charleston.

At 10:32 a.m., Shelby police received the tip about his sighting, and he was stopped minutes later.

BRUCE HENDERSON of the Observer and TIM FLACH, SAMMY FRETWELL AND HARRISON CAHILL of The (Columbia) State contributed. The Charleston Post & Courier also contributed.

Helping the families

To donate to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, which has been set up to support the families of the shooting victims, visit any Wells Fargo Bank branch.

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