FBI: Church gunman shouldn't have been able to get gun

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Charleston Church Shooter Shouldn't Have Been Able To Buy Gun

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The gunman charged in the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre should not have been allowed to purchase the weapon used in the attack, FBI Director James Comey said Friday as he outlined a series of "heartbreaking" missed opportunities and flawed paperwork that allowed the transaction to take place.

"We are all sick that this has happened," Comey told reporters in an unusual, hastily-scheduled meeting at FBI headquarters. "We wish we could turn back time, because from this vantage point, everything seems obvious. But we cannot."

See images of the suspect and the crime scene below:

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Charleston SC shooting, scene and suspect - Dylann Roof
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FBI: Church gunman shouldn't have been able to get gun
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in Charleston, S.C, on Friday, June 19, 2015. The 21-year-old man accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston made his first court appearance Friday, with the relatives of all the victims making tearful statements. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court, of Charleston, S.C. via AP, Pool)
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in North Charleston, S.C, on Friday, June 19, 2015. The 21-year-old man accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston made his first court appearance Friday, with the relatives of all the victims making tearful statements. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court, of Charleston, S.C. via AP, Pool)
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in Charleston, S.C., on Friday, June 19, 2015. The 21-year-old accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston made his first court appearance, with the relatives of all the victims making tearful statements. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court, of Charleston, S.C. via AP)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
This photo provided by Charleston County Sheriff's Office shows Dylann Roof, Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in the slayings of several people Wednesday, including the pastor, at a prayer meeting inside The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. (Charleston County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof is a suspect in the shooting of several people Wednesday night at the historic The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
This April 2015 photo released by the Lexington County (S.C.) Detention Center shows Dylann Roof, 21. Charleston Police identified Roof as the shooter who opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, June 17, 2015, killing several people. (Lexington County (S.C.) Detention Center via AP)
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Photo via Charleston Police Department)
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Charleston Police Department via AP)
The Emanuel AME Church is viewed behind a police vehicle on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds up a tape in front of the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Map locates Charleston, S.C., site of a church shooting; 3c x 3 inches; 146 mm x 76 mm;
A view ofthe Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Map locates Charleston, S.C., site of a church shooting; 1c x 2 inches; 46.5 mm x 50 mm;
The sun begins to rise behind the steeple of Emanuel AME Church, Thursday, June 18, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. On Wednesday, a white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church, killing multiple people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A man kneels across the street from where police gather outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (Wade Spees/The Post And Courier via AP)
Surreace Cox, of North Charleston, S.C., holds a sign during a prayer vigil down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015, following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police talk to a man outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, inCharleston, S.C. (Wade Spees/The Post And Courier via AP)
A passing motorist looks out her window as she stops at an intersection down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A man looks on as a group of people arrive inquiring about a shooting across the street Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Chaplain James St. John, center, leads senators in prayer, Thursday, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. State Sen. Clementa Pinckney was one of those killed Wednesday night in a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2012, file photo, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, right, talks to a supporter during a break in a hearing protesting his re-election in Columbia, S.C. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside an historic black church, in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, killing multiple people, including Pinckney, the church's pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)
State Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) gets emtional as he sits next to the draped desk of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Thursday, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. Pinckney was one of those killed, Wednesday night in a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, right, stands next to Police Chief Gregory Mullen as he addresses the media down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers gather to pray in a hotel parking lot across the street from the scene of a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Lisa Doctor joins a prayer circle down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The steeple of Emanuel AME Church is visible as police close off a section of Calhoun Street early Thursday, June 18, 2015 following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Charleston Emergency Management Director Mark Wilbert holds a flier distributed to media, Thursday, June 18, 2015, with surveillance footage of a suspect wanted in the connection of a shooting Wednesday at Emanuel AME Church during a news conference, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Images on a flier provided to media, Thursday, June 18, 2015, by the Charleston Police Department show surveillance footage of a suspect wanted in connection with a shooting Wednesday at Emanuel AME Church inCharleston, S.C. (Courtesy of Charleston Police Department via AP)
The desk of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney is draped in black cloth with a single rose and vase, Thursday, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. Pinckney was one of those killed Wednesday night in a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Investigators work outside the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015, following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting at Emanuel AME Church, Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church, killing multiple people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A distraught man is comforted as a group of concerned people arrive inquiring about a shooting across the street Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers gather to pray in a hotel parking lot across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen speaks during a news conference, Thursday, June 18, 2015, following Wednesday's shooting at Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, S.C. Police released surveillance video of a possible suspect and vehicle in the fatal shooting of multiple people at the historic black church. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An FBI agent walks across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers gather to pray down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police close off a section of Calhoun Street near the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police walk down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A police officer uses a flashlight while searching the area following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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He said he had ordered a review of what happened and that FBI officials would be meeting Friday with victims' relatives.

The cascading set of problems began with the drug-related arrest of Dylann Roof in South Carolina weeks before the shooting. During that arrest, police say he admitted to possessing illegal drugs.

Under federal rules, that admission alone would have been enough to immediately disqualify him from an April gun purchase even though he wasn't convicted of the charge. But, Comey said, the FBI background check examiner who evaluated Roof's request to buy a gun never saw the arrest report because the wrong arresting agency was listed on the South Carolina criminal history records that she reviewed.

Had the West Virginia-based examiner seen the police report, the purchase would have been denied, Comey said. The request was on hold for three business days as the FBI examiner sought information about whether it should be approved or rejected. Once that window closed, the firearms dealer used its legal discretion to allow the sale to be completed.

"It may be a series of a highly improbable events coming together, but this was a gun that was used to murder nine good people. So it's very important to me that we understand what we can learn from this," Comey said.

Comey said he learned about the problem on Thursday night and had directed an internal 30-day review into the situation and the FBI's background check process more generally. The Justice Department's inspector general had already been exploring the same issue.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, condemned the errors.

"It's disastrous that this bureaucratic mistake prevented existing laws from working and blocking an illegal gun sale," Grassley said. "The facts undercut attempts to use the tragedy to enact unnecessary gun laws. The American people, and especially the victims' families, deserve better."

The problem unfolded like this:

Roof went to buy the .45-caliber pistol on April 11 from a licensed firearms dealer, Shooter's Choice, in West Columbia, South Carolina.

The background check examiner assigned to Roof's case identified through South Carolina records an arrest on a drug charge. But the arresting agency that was listed, for reasons Comey said were unclear, was the Lexington County sheriff's office. The actual arresting agency was the Columbia police department. Had she reached that police force, she would have seen the arrest report in which Roof admitted having the drug Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addiction, Comey said.

Instead, she followed up with the county sheriff's office and the county prosecutor's office. The prosecutor never responded, and the county sheriff suggested that she check with the Columbia police force.

The FBI's confusion was further compounded by local geography.

The background examiner knew the arrest took place in Lexington County, but when she consulted her list of county police agencies, she did not see the Columbia police force. That department was listed in Richland County - where most of the city is located.

That list, or contact sheet, in retrospect should have identified both counties as home to the city of Columbia.

When she did not see Columbia on her list, she selected what she thought was the most reasonable alternative - West Columbia, where the gun shop was located - but the police department there also said it had no record of Roof's arrest.

Before she could track down the police report, the three day window lapsed and the transaction went through on April 16.

Comey's announcement came within hours of the Confederate flag's removal from the South Carolina Statehouse. Families of the victims attended the ceremony.

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