US Authorities Vow Justice After Suspect Caught in Church Shooting

VOA News

U.S. authorities said they will pursue federal hate crime charges after the man allegedly behind Wednesday night’s fatal mass shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, was arrested.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation identified Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, S.C., as their suspect.

Roof was stopped in a car in North Carolina and taken into custody in Shelby, N.C., about a four-hour drive from the church, Charleston police Chief Gregory Mullen said.

At noontime, prayer vigils were held outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Personal connection

In televised remarks to the press, President Barack Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, personally know several members of the church, including the pastor who was murdered.

“To say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and community doesn’t say enough to communicate the heartache, sadness and anger that we feel,” Obama said.

The president condemned the killings as “senseless.”

“There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship,” he said.

Obama noted Emanuel African Methodist’s long involvement in the nation’s civil rights movement.

“Mother Emmanuel is in fact more than a church,” he said. “This was a place of worship founded by African-Americans seeking liberty.”

He said Americans must come to terms with increasing gun violence in the nation.

“Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let’s be clear — 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,” he said.

Hate crime investigation

The U.S. Justice Department said earlier Thursday it had opened a federal hate crime investigation into the shooting.

This April 2015 photo released by the Lexington County (S.C.) Detention Center shows Dylann Roof, 21. Charleston Police identified Roof as the shooter who opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

Carson Cowles, the suspect’s uncle, told Reuters that he recognized Roof in a photo released by police, and described him as quiet and soft-spoken. Roof’s father gave Dylann Roof a .45-caliber pistol for his 21st birthday in April, Cowles added.

Charleston Chief Mullen said at a news conference earlier Thursday that the gunman, described as a white male in his early to mid-20s, walked into the church during a weekly prayer meeting and sat with the churchgoers for about an hour before he opened fire, killing nine people.

Several others were wounded in the massacre, Mullen said.

The hate crime investigation involves the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina.

“This is a crime that has reached into the heart of that community … acts like this have no place in our country,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

Mullen said eight people died at the church, while another died after being taken to a hospital. Authorities released a flier with photographs of the suspected gunman as he entered the church.

Six women and three men were killed in the shooting, he said.

News reports said the church’s pastor, Clementa Pinckney, who is also a South Carolina state senator, was among those killed in the rampage.

Charleston native Tessa Spencer Adams, an anchor for ABC News in the city, told VOA the Emanuel AME Church is an integral part of life in Charleston, and is tightly tied to the city’s history.

“If you didn’t attend, you know someone who did,” she said.

Breakdown of hate crimes in the United States

Spencer Adams said she knew one of the victims; family members tell her the young man, a recent college graduate, shielded his aunt from bullets as his mother watched. Four members of one family were killed, according to a relative.

“To see grown men with tears, white, black, male, female, knowing each other or not – people are still trying to wrap their heads around it,” Spencer Adams said.

Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley called the assault “a 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.”

Soon after Wednesday night’s shooting, a group of pastors huddled together in a prayer circle across the street from the church.

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