National News

Charleston gunman arrested in Shelby

Posted June 18, 2015 6:17 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2015 1:56 p.m. EDT

— A florist in Kings Mountain made a call to police Thursday morning that led to the quick capture of a man wanted in a mass shooting that left nine dead at a church in Charleston, S.C.

Dylan Storm Roof, 21, who was the subject of an all-night manhunt following Wednesday’s shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was taken into custody by police officers who pulled him over in Shelby just after 10:30 a.m.

Shelby police Chief Jeff Ledford said his department got the call from Kings Mountain police detectives, who said they had taken a call from a business owner who spotted Roof. Eleven minutes later, Shelby officers found Roof alone in his car, driving west on Dixon Boulevard, and stopped him.

By late afternoon Thursday, Roof had waived extradition and was on his way back to South Carolina to face charges there.

The florist who spotted Roof, Debbie Dills of Gastonia, N.C., said she and was on her way to work at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain when she spotted a familiar black Hyundai with a South Carolina license plate.

Dills continued to drive on U.S. Highway 74, past Kings Mountain and into Shelby long enough to get the license plate number. She then called her boss, who then notified the police of Roof’s possible location.

She said she believes God put her there—at that moment—as an answered prayer.

“I’m not normally an observant person when it comes to things like that,” Dills said. “But this morning—and that’s why I’m calling it divine intervention—I think the lord had a hand in it. I was on my way to work, and I had been praying for those families there.”

The fast capture “saved the government tens of thousands of dollars” that would have been spent tracking down Roof, said John Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina. He said authorities are still working to determine whether the shootings constitute a hate crime.

“The subject is now in custody, the immediate threat to the community no longer exists, and we’ll let the legal process run its course,” Strong said. “There are no longer any lives at risk.”

The attack hit home for many North Carolinians, including former Mecklenburg County Senator Malcom Graham. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said he was on the phone with Graham when the coroner called to confirm that his sister, Cynthia Hurd, had been killed.

“It shouldn’t take each and every one of us losing a person that we know before we do something,” McKissick said. “The time has come, the time is now. The time is upon us to seize that opportunity and do something constructively.”

Gov. Pat McCrory also extended his condolences to the former senator’s family and the victims.

"Ann and I are shocked and saddened by the senseless acts of violence that took place in Charleston last night,” McCrory said. “I especially want to offer my condolences to my friend and former state Senator Malcom Graham, who lost his sister Cynthia Hurd. Ann and I urge all North Carolinians to join us in keeping the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers.”

Roof spent nearly an hour inside the church Wednesday night before killing six women and three men, including the pastor—state Sen. Clementa Pickney. Pickney, 41, spent 19 years in the South Carolina Legislature. He became the youngest member of the House when he was first elected as a Democrat at 23.

President Barack Obama, who knew the slain pastor, called the victims’ deaths “senseless murders,” and said any death like this is a tragedy.

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

Roof's childhood friend, Joey Meek, alerted the FBI after recognizing him in a surveillance camera image, said Meek's mother, Kimberly Konzny.

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

Konzny said Roof displayed the flags of defeated white-ruled regimes: He had a Confederate flag on his license plate, and a photo on his Facebook page shows him wearing a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa.

Eight others were killed along with Pickney. They were: Tywanza Sanders, 26; the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 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 enrollment counselor, and a high school track 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.

Wooten said autopsies would be conducted over the next several days and did not have specific information on how many times the victims were shot or the locations of their injuries.

According to The State newspaper, Roof had previously been arrested in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 28 for possession of narcotics. Roof had a bottle containing what police believe to be unprescribed suboxone pills—commonly used to treat an opiate addiction—according to the arrest report.

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, which increased racial tensions. The officer awaits trial for murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina to pass a law, co-sponsored by Pickney, to equip police statewide with body cameras.

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Contributors include Alex Sanz, Meg Kinnard and David Goldman in Charleston, South Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Eric Tucker in Washington and Jacob Jordan in Atlanta.