A white man was arrested on Thursday on suspicions he killed nine people at a historic black church in South Carolina after sitting with them for an hour of Bible study in an attack U.S. officials are investigating as a hate crime.
The massacre occured on Wednesday night at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of oldest African-American houses of worship in the country. Among those killed was South Carolina state Sen. and the church's current pastor Clementa Pinckney.
The mass shooting set off an intense 14-hour manhunt that ended when 21-year-old Dylann Roof was arrested in a traffic stop about 220 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina, where the shooting occurred, officials said.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said a tip to the Shelby Police Department, reportedly from a florist running late to work, led to a traffic stop that resulted in the suspect's arrest. Roof was "cooperative," Mullen added, but he would not comment on whether any weapons were found in Roof's vehicle.
Federal authorities said they would investigate the shooting as a hate crime. The U.S. Department of Justice said the investigation — which involves the department's civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Carolina — will be "parallel to and cooperative with the state's investigation."
Mullen, who said he believes the incident was a hate crime, told reporters at a morning news conference that the entire city of Charleston was grieving.
"This tragedy that we’re addressing right now is indescribable," Mullen said before Roof's arrest. “It is unfathomable that somebody in today’s society would walk into a church when people are having a prayer meeting and take their lives," he added.
Roof sat with churchgoers for about an hour on Wednesday before opening fire, Mullen said. He reloaded five times, even as victims pleaded with him to stop, according to a relative of Pinckney's.
Carson Cowles, Roof's uncle, told law enforcement officials on Thursday that he recognized Roof in a photo released by police. He noted that Roof's father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday this year.
Images on social media on Thursday showed Roof displaying symbols commonly associated with racist and white-dominant governing systems. In one photo from his Facebook account, Roof is wearing a jacket emblazoned with the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), governments that enforced systems of racial separation and white privilege.
In another picture, shared by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights group, Roof is sitting on the hood of a car with a plate commemorating the Confederate States of America.
Dalton Tyler, Root’s roommate who spoke with ABC News, said that the shooter had been “planning something like that for six months.”
“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler said. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
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