The man suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting at a historic black church in this city’s downtown area was caught on Thursday some 200 miles away in North Carolina, local and federal officials said.
After an intensive, 14-hour manhunt for the man who carried out a massacre that officials are calling racially motivated, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, “was arrested in Shelby, N.C., during a traffic stop” shortly after 11 a.m., said Greg Mullen, the Charleston police chief.
The police here say Mr. Roof, who is white, is suspected of being the gunman who walked into the prayer meeting Wednesday night, sat down with black parishioners for nearly an hour, and then opened fire.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the F.B.I., and the United States Attorney’s Office for South Carolina have opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting, which left six women and three men dead, and Chief Mullen has called it a hate crime.
“We will now be looking at all of the facts, all of the motivations that led this individual, if in fact he is the shooter,” to carry out the killings, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said at a news conference.
“It is really premature to determine which is the best venue, either state or federal, to pursue this matter,” Ms. Lynch said.
President Obama, speaking at the White House, said, “To say that our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel.”
Mr. Obama said he had known the pastor who was killed, as well as other church members. And he called the shooting “particularly heartbreaking” because it occurred in a place of worship where African-Americans worked to end slavery.
The president said lawmakers should address the easy availability of guns, which he said helps make such tragedies possible, adding that he has “had to make statements like this too many times.”
Mr. Roof’s Facebook profile picture shows him wearing a jacket decorated with the flags of two former white supremacist regimes: in apartheid-era South Africa, and in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
David A. Thomas, the special agent in charge of F.B.I.’s bureau in Columbia, said Mr. Roof, who is from the Columbia, S.C., area, had not been someone who was being watched by the agency.
The gunman walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after 8 p.m., and the first call to police came shortly after 9 p.m. Among the dead was the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, pastor of the church, who was also a state senator.
“We woke up today and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken,” Gov. Nikki R. Haley said through tears at a news conference.
At a vigil at the Morris Brown A.M.E. Church, just blocks from the shooting, people joined hands and looked upward, swaying and singing as a chorus of “We Shall Overcome” echoed through the crowd.
The mood was at times grieving, at times hopeful and at times resilient. Calls of “enough is enough” came as the Rev. John Richard Bryant called for an end to gun violence. Near the vigil’s end, the pastor looked out on the packed-to-the-walls crowd and said: “You look like a quilt. You look like patches. You all fit somewhere.”
Said Governor Haley: “When hate happens, we come together, and that’s what we’ll do. So right now we grieve. And then we’ll heal. And when we heal, we end up stronger than we started.”
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Mr. Pinckney’s, said in an interview with NBC News that a survivor of the shooting had told her the gunman reloaded five times. The survivor said the gunman had entered the church and asked for the pastor. Then he sat next to Mr. Pinckney during the Bible study before opening fire.
“I have to do it,” the gunman was quoted as saying. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Eight people died at the scene, Chief Mullen said. One person died on the way to the Medical University of South Carolina.
The police released pictures from surveillance footage of the suspect — a slight young man with fair hair worn bowl shaped — and said he had been seen leaving the church in a black, four-door sedan that was also captured on video. By midmorning Thursday, they had identified him as Mr. Roof, and asked people to be on the lookout for the car he was driving, a 2000 Hyundai Elantra GS.
Mr. Roof was described as being 5-foot-9 and weighing 120 pounds. His Facebook page says he graduated from White Knoll High School in Lexington, near Columbia, the state capital.
He has a low-level arrest record, state court records show, including a trespassing charge in Richland County for which he was sentenced last month to 12 days in jail; and a drug possession first offense he was charged with in March, in neighboring Lexington County. That case is still pending.
City officials did not release information about the victims and did not say how many people were in the church during the shooting. Hospital officials declined to comment, but family and friends were being directed to an assistance center set up at a nearby Embassy Suites hotel.
Wendell Gilliard, a state representative from Charleston, said he had gone to the hotel.
“I looked up and saw one of my best friends coming up,” he said. “And I said, ‘What are you doing here? And he said, ‘You didn’t hear Wendell?’ I said, ‘Hear what?’ He said, ‘I lost my aunt.’ I was just thrown back even further. It was just one after another, it seemed like last night.”
Mr. Pinckney’s sister was also among those killed, said J. Todd Rutherford, the minority leader of the State House of Representatives.
Mr. Rutherford, who had served in the State Legislature with Mr. Pinckney, 41, since 1998, recalled him as a tireless leader with a booming voice and a mission to serve. “He was called to the ministry when he was 13, ordained at 18, elected to the House at 23 and the Senate at 27,” Mr. Rutherford said. “He was a man driven by public service.”
State Senator Lawrence K. Grooms said Mr. Pinckney had had “a voice you could pick out of a crowd, a booming voice.”
“He was my friend, he was my colleague, but he was also my brother in Christ,” said Mr. Grooms, who drove down from the Statehouse as soon as he heard the news last night.
In a statement, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., Cornell William Brooks, said, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”
The church, known here as “Mother Emanuel,” houses the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, according to the National Park Service, and its website calls it the oldest A.M.E. church in the South. The Park Service lists the church’s Gothic Revival building, which dates from 1891, as a historically significant building.
“This was a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery,” Mr. Obama said.
The congregation was formed by black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church who broke away “over disputed burial ground,” according to the website of the National Park Service.
In 1822, one of the church’s co-founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to foment a slave rebellion in Charleston, the church’s website says. The plot was foiled by the authorities and 35 people were executed, including Mr. Vesey.
The church is “symbolically recognized by everyone as a thorn in the side of the white body,” said the writer Edward Ball, whose books include “Slaves in the Family,” which recounts his own ancestors’ history as slave owners.
“It’s at the very center of town, at the very center of white society,” he said. “This church is much more than a place where people sing gospel. It’s tethered to the deep unconscious of the black community.”
Culled from The New York Times