Suspect in Custody, DOJ Investigating Charleston Shooting As A Hate Crime

By Kenrya Rankin Jun 18, 2015

Update, Thursday, June 18, 11:35a ET:

Reports indicate that 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, suspected of killing nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, has been taken into custody in Shelby, North Carolina. 

Last night, a man shot and killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect, who the FBI has identified as Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white man from the Columbia, South Carolina area, sat in Wednesday night prayer meeting with parishioners for an hour before opening fire and escaping. Eight people, including the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator, died at the church. A ninth died at a local hospital. One of the three survivors says the shooter let her live so that she could tell the tale, according to the local NAACP chapter president. 

According to a NBC News interview with Sylvia Johnson, Rev. Picnkney’s cousin who spoke to survivors, Roof said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.”

Formed in 1816, “Mother Emanuel” is the oldest AME church in the South. It has historically catered to an African-American congregation, leading many—including Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen—to believe the shooting was racially motivated. “There’s no doubt in my mind it’s a hate crime,” Mullen said. 

The Department of Justice agrees. This morning, a spokesperson announced that the Civil Rights Division will work with the FBI, local U.S. Attorney’s office, and state’s attorney to investigate the shooting as a hate crime. 

According to the FBI, a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” While they are not automatically considered a federal offense, the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute violent hate crimes, which could lead to stiffer sentencing than a crime without bias.

Police believe Roof is still in the area, but are also working with law enforcement in nearby cities. This morning, they released surveillance images to the public, but cautioned that he is dangerous and should not be approached. “This is an all-hands-on-deck effort with the community as well as law enforcement. When people go out, they should be vigilant, they should be aware of their surroundings. And if they see anything suspicious, they should call law enforcement,” Mullen said.