CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – A man accused of a terrifying murder spree that killed 9 people at a Charleston church was arrested Thursday morning in North Carolina, authorities confirmed.
Police identified the suspect in the Wednesday night shooting in Charleston as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof of the Columbia, South Carolina area. State court records for Roof show a felony drug arrest from March that was pending against him and a misdemeanor trespassing charge from April.
Roof arrived in Charleston just before 7:30 p.m. after his arrest in Shelby, North Carolina.
Roof was arrested Thursday morning at about 11 a.m. in Shelby, N.C. at a traffic stop, authorities said. A driver saw a man believed to be Roof and called in a tip, authorities added.
The Shelby Star newspaper said Debbie Dills, who works as a florist in Kings Mountain, saw Roof in his car. She was running late for work and called her boss to ask him for advice. He called the Kings Mountain police, who then called the Shelby police.
Dills told the Star newspaper, “I saw the news coverage last night and the picture of the car. I knew it was a black car, and it had a tag on the front. I saw the pictures of him with the bowl cut. Since it happened I was praying for them and the church. I was in the right place at the right time that the Lord puts you.”
Shelby is nearly an hour west of Charlotte and a little more than three and a half hours from Charleston. According to the Shelby Star, florist Debbie Dills was late for her job at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain when she spotted Roof on Highway 74. She called her boss, who called the Kings Mountain Police. They contacted the Shelby Police, who soon stopped Roof.
A librarian and recent college graduate are among the nine people killed by a the gunman in the church just after 9 pm Wednesday.
S.C. State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41, the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Church, was identified as one of those killed.
Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said Thursday the others have been identified as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and DePayne Doctor, 49.
Sanders had recently graduated from Allen University. Hurd worked for Charleston County’s library system for 31 years. Doctor was an enrollment counselor at Southern Wesleyan University’s Charleston Campus, according to a friend.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said of the slayings, “The heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.” During a news conference, Gov. Haley, holding back tears talking about the families of the nine victims, said that South Carolinians need to allow themselves to grieve, pray, question but also to heal.
Earlier Thursday, Charleston police said a young white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston on Wednesday night, killing nine people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. Roof was seen driving off in a black Hyundai.
Police said Thursday morning that the victims included three males and six females. The sister of former North Carolina senator Malcolm Graham – Cynthia Marie Graham-Hurd – was among those slain.
Police Chief Greg Mullen said he believed the attack at the Emanuel AME Church was a hate crime, and police were looking for a white male in his early 20s. Mullen said the scene was chaotic when police arrived, and the officers thought they had the suspect tracked with a police dog, but he got away.
“We will put all effort, we will put all resources and we will put all of our energy into finding this individual who committed this crime tonight,” he said. Thursday morning he said the search for the suspect was an “all hands on deck” situation.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley called the shooting “the 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.”
State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told The Associated Press that the church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.
Pinckney 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state house at age 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.
“He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should,” Rutherford, D-Columbia, said. “He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody.”
The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighboring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area. The officer has been charged with murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.
In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolinians to pray for the victims and their families and decried violence at religious institutions.
“We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” Haley said.
Soon after Wednesday night’s shooting, a group of pastors huddled together praying in a circle across the street.
Community organizer Christopher Cason said he felt certain the shootings were racially motivated.
“I am very tired of people telling me that I don’t have the right to be angry,” Cason said. “I am very angry right now.”
Even before Scott’s shooting in April, Cason said he had been part of a group meeting with police and local leaders to try to shore up relations.
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.
The city of Charleston has opened an assistance center for families of the victims of Wednesday night’s fatal shooting at a historic black church.
City spokeswoman Barbara Vaughn says the center will be based at a hotel and will be staffed by local, state and federal victim services personnel, as well as a group of Charleston-area chaplains.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Raleigh Diosese released this statement, “With incredible sadness and heartache we learned this morning of the murder of 9 congregants of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. who were gathered for prayer. In solidarity with my brother Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, I ask all the Catholic faithful and people of good will in the Diocese of Raleigh to stop at some point today, and offer sincere and thoughtful prayer for the 9 victims of this horrific crime and for their families. While it may be difficult, especially with the crime being so recent, we should also pray for the man who committed this heinous crime, as well as and for all those in law enforcement working tirelessly to bring forth justice. In addition, through our prayers, words and deeds, may we strive daily to do our part, with God’s grace, to create a society of peace and love.”
— WNCN contributed to this report