Nine black people were murdered and three were injured when a white gunman opened fire during a Bible Study session at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina (S.C.).
The mass murders occurred on the evening of June 17, 2015. According to witnesses and those who talked to witnesses, a man later identified as twenty-one year old Dylann Roof walked into Emmanuel AME Church where a small group had gathered for Bible Study. After sitting for about an hour, he suddenly stood and opened fire on the group members. One group member tried to talk Roof out of violence by telling him, “You don’t have to do this”, but he replied, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.” When Roof aimed his weapon at the oldest person in the group, her nephew told Roof to aim at him instead. Roof said “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to shoot all of you.” The nephew moved in front of his aunt and the bullet first hit him. The nephew’s mother lay motionless on the floor, playing dead, and was not shot. Roof told one woman that he would not shoot her so she could tell the story of what happened. Among those left dead was the pastor of the church who was also a S.C. state senator. Fourteen hours later Roof was arrested without incident in Shelby, North Carolina, and was extradited to Charleston.
The father, an uncle, and a childhood friend of Roof’s called authorities to identify Roof after surveillance footage was released showing Roof entering the church. Roof’s friend, Joey Meek said Roof had complained that “blacks were taking over the world” and “someone needed to do something about it for the white race”. Meek also said that Roof used birthday money to purchase a Glock pistol and that Roof had become an avowed racist. On his Facebook page Roof is shown wearing a jacket with stitched on flag patches of two former white ruled governments: apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Roof has confessed to the massacre, and told police he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”
Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and illegal weapons possession. Charleston’s Mayor called Roof’s behavior an act of “pure concentrated evil”. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the attack would be investigated as a hate crime.
Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center – an organization that tracks hate groups, said it was unclear if Roof had any connection to any of the 16 white supremacist organizations operating in S.C. He also stated that there has been an increase in the number of hate groups in the U.S. since 2000, and “the increase has been driven by a backlash to the country’s increasing racial diversity, an increase symbolized for many by the presence of an African American in the White House.”