Police late Thursday morning captured Dylann Roof, 21, the alleged gunman who killed three males and six females at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. They found him in Shelby, North Carolina, and took him into custody, but few other details are known.
The site he was found at is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the location of the shootings. His arrest comes as local police, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI all announced intent to treat the incident as a “hate” crime.
A witness said, before Roof began shooting victims, he declared, “I have to do it. You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Another witness claimed Roof said he was there “to shoot black people.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a press conference shortly after his capture: “We’re not going to be discussing details of the case at this time.”
The FBI released his name mid-morning on Thursday, and cited his age as 21. Fox News reported he hails from Lexington, South Carolina, two hours from the church, and was arrested in March 2014 on drug charges. He self-identifies as living in Columbia, however, on his Facebook page.
Various media said his father gave him a handgun for his 21st birthday.
From Charleston early Thursday morning, Police Chief Greg Mullen distributed a flyer of a video still-shot of Roof, apparently wearing a hair net, along with his suspected get-away vehicle. At the same time, he warned the suspect is “a very dangerous individual, should not be approached.”
The shooting occurred Wednesday night at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church while the congregation was meeting in prayer. Eight of the victims died at the scene; the ninth died at a nearby hospital.
“I’m lost, I’m lost,” John Quil Lance told the Charleston Post and Courier. He said his grandmother was shot in the church.
“Granny was the heart of the family. She’s a Christian, hardworking; I could call my granny for anything. I don’t have anyone else like that. What was this guy thinking? That dude shot a bunch of elderly people! Now people are going to be afraid to go to church. I don’t know what’s going to come of this. I’ll tell you this, I’m not the only one praying tonight.”
Lance fell to the ground and sobbed. “Somebody better get that (expletive).”
Mullen also expressed compassion for the victims’ families: “No one in this community will ever forget this night.” “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church while they are having a prayer meeting and take their lives,” Mullen previously stated, various media reported.
“To walk into a church and shoot someone is out of pure hatred,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr.
“The only reason that someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate. … 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 also said Thursday morning that there are “far too many guns out there.”
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.”
Fox News reported the suspect let a woman go free, telling her to go spread the word about his shooting spree.
Various media also reported a five-year-old inside the church played dead to avoid being shot.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Fox News on Thursday the nation ought to be on high alert – but that maybe out of evil could come good.
“It reminds me [a bit] of September 11,” he said, of the shock and grief that’s come over the community. “It reminds me of the church burnings [in the 1970s and 1990s]. … This is a terrible tragedy [and] we don’t know the motivation of this person, but maybe it’s going to unite us.”
He spoke of the community gathered in prayer to “the Prince of Peace,” Jesus Christ, and how those of faith could very well draw closer after this incident. But he also warned: “”I have to assume he’s going to do it again. I also have to assume he’s going to shoot when confronted … Until you catch him, I would say, who knows? We have no idea what’s in his mind.”
Among the victims of the shooting was Clementa Pinckney, 41, a state senator who also served as a pastor of the church. He was the married father of two young daughters and had reportedly started preaching the word of God while in his early teens.
“Rev. Pinckney answered the call to preach at the age of 13 and received his first appointment to pastor at the age of 18,” according to the website of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. At 23, Pinckney was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, and in 2000, he was elected to the State Senate as a Democrat.
Multiple media sources reported Pinckney was at the Hillary Clinton fundraiser earlier Wednesday evening and State House in Columbia earlier in the day.
“He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should,” said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, to the Associated Press. “He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody.”
The community has responded in grief and with prayer.
“Rest in peace my friend Sen. Rev. Clementa Pinckney,” Rep. Samuel Rivers Jr. wrote on Twitter.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she’s praying for the families and surviving victims. “While we do not yet know all of the details,” she said in a statement, “we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”
Meanwhile Rev. Al Sharpton has reportedly headed to the scene, ostensibly to join his nonprofit’s presence on the ground and look into any racial components of the shooting, Fox News reported.
Sharpton tweeted: “Getting very disturbing reports about the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. Our [National Action Network] SC chair Elder Johnson is on the scene.”
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.
See WND’s extensive coverage of the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre: