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Suspect in Charleston Church Killing Arrested in N. Carolina

6/18/2015, 11:05 a.m.
A white man was arrested Thursday in the slayings of nine people, including the pastor, at a prayer meeting inside ...
Worshippers gather to pray down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina.

(AP) - A white man was arrested Thursday in the slayings of nine people, including the pastor, at a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C.

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, stayed for nearly an hour inside the church Wednesday night before shooting six females and three males at a prayer meeting, Police Chief Greg Mullen said.

Roof put up no resistance after a citizen tip led police to his car Thursday morning in Shelby, N.C., Mullen said.

"Acts like this one have no place in our country," said Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who announced a Justice Department hate crime investigation. "They have no place in a civilized society."

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal 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 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," State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford told The Associated Press. "He was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody."

Roof's childhood friend, Joey Meek, alerted the FBI after recognizing him in a surveillance camera image that was widely circulated, said Meek's mother, Kimberly Kozny. Roof had worn the same sweatshirt while playing Xbox videogames in their home recently.

"I don't know what was going through his head," Kozny said. "He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends."

Roof had been to jail: State court records show a pending felony drug case against him, and a past misdemeanor trespassing charge.

Roof displayed a Confederate flag on his license plate, Kozny said, and in a photo on his Facebook page, he wears a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from two other defeated white-ruled regimes: Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa.

The shooting evoked painful memories of other attacks on black churches. They were bombed the 1960s, when they served as organizing hubs for the Civil Rights movement. Many were burned by arsons in the 1990s. Others survived shooting sprees.

This particular church, which was founded in 1816, had its own grim history: When a founder, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822, he was caught, and white landowners burned the church down in revenge. Parishioners worshipped 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 Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat whose district includes the church. "We need action. There's a race problem in our country. There's a gun problem in our country. We need to act on them quickly."

Mullen said names of the victims would be released once families have been notified.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. called the shooting "an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind."

"Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained," Riley said. "We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family."