Man held over US church shootings

Published: Friday 19th June 2015 by The News Editor

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A white man said to have joined a prayer meeting inside a historic black church before shooting dead nine people has been returned to South Carolina after an all-night manhunt.

Dylann Roof, 21, was captured without resistance in neighbouring North Carolina, police said. He waived extradition from the state and was taken to a waiting police car wearing a bulletproof vest, with shackles on his feet and his hands cuffed behind his back, then put on a plane.

He is being held at a detention centre pending a bail hearing.

Roof spent nearly an hour inside The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday night before killing six women and three men, including the pastor, state senator Clementa Pinckney.

He was captured after a florist spotted his car in North Carolina, nearly four hours away.

Charleston police chief Greg Mullen would not discuss a motive for the massacre and city mayor Joseph Riley called it “pure, pure concentrated evil”.

Stunned community leaders and politicians condemned the attack and US attorney general Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department had begun a hate crime investigation.

President Barack Obama, who personally knew the murdered pastor, said such shootings had to stop.

“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.

Mr Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two who spent 19 years in the South Carolina legislature. He became the youngest member of the house of representatives when he was first elected as a Democrat at 23.

“He had a core not many of us have,” said Senator Vincent Sheheen, who sat beside him in the senate. “I think of the irony that the most gentle of the 46 of us – the best of the 46 of us in this chamber – is the one who lost his life.”

The other victims were identified as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; the Rev Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; the Rev Daniel Simmons, 74; and DePayne Doctor, 49.

The shootings took out the heart of a community – civic leaders including three pastors, a regional library manager, a college enrolment counsellor, and a high school athletics coach – and left the historic church with just one living minister.

“Immediately, my heart started to sink, because I knew that this was going to mean a forever impact on many, many people,” Charleston County coroner Rae Wooten said.

Roof’s childhood friend Joey Meek alerted the FBI after recognising him in a surveillance camera image.

Roof had been to jail before: Court records show a pending misdemeanour drug case and a past misdemeanour trespassing charge. And he proudly displayed the flags of defeated white-ruled regimes, posing with a Confederate flag plate on his car and wearing a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from Rhodesia, which is now black-led Zimbabwe, and apartheid-era South Africa.

Mr Meek said they had been best friends in middle school, then lost touch for years until Roof reappeared a few weeks ago.

“All the sudden out of the blue, he started talking about race. He started talking about (black Florida teenager killed by a neighbourhood watch volunteer) Trayvon Martin,” Meek said after he was questioned by authorities.

“He said blacks were taking over the world. Someone needed to do something about it for the white race. He said he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. I said, ‘That’s not the way it should be’. But he kept talking about it.”

The shooting evoked painful memories of other attacks. Black churches were bombed in the 1960s when they served as organising hubs for the civil rights movement, and burned across the South in the 1990s. Others survived shooting sprees.

This particular congregation, which formed in 1816, has its own grim history: A founder, Denmark Vesey, was hanged after trying to organise a slave revolt in 1822, and white landowners burned the church in revenge, leaving parishioners to worship underground until after the Civil War.

This shooting “should be a warning to us all that we do have a problem in our society”, said state congressman Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat whose district includes the church. “There’s a race problem in our country. There’s a gun problem in our country. We need to act on them quickly.”

The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighbouring North Charleston, which increased racial tensions. The officer awaits trial for murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina to pass a law, co-sponsored by Mr Pinckney, to equip police statewide with body cameras.

Published: Friday 19th June 2015 by The News Editor

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