White suspect charged with murder in killings at black US church

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A 21-year-old white man has been charged with nine counts of murder in connection with an attack on a historic black South Carolina church, police said on Friday, and media reports said he had hoped to incite a race war in the United States.

Residents of Charleston flocked to the nearly-200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as they struggled to comprehend how suspected shooter Dylann Roof could sit with worshippers for an hour of Bible study before allegedly opening fire on Wednesday, killing nine black people and fleeing into the night, triggering a 14-hour manhunt.

"This was not merely a mass shooting, not merely a matter of gun violence, this was a racial hate crime and must be confronted as such," said Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 to confront lynchings in the United States.

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White suspect charged with murder in killings at black US church
People que to lay flowers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 19, 2015. Police captured the white suspect in a gun massacre at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest deadly assault to feed simmering racial tensions. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead during bible study on June 17. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People que to lay flowers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 19, 2015. Police captured the white suspect in a gun massacre at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest deadly assault to feed simmering racial tensions. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead during bible study on June 17. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People attend a vigil at TD Arena for victims of the recent church shooting June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. For someone reportedly bent on igniting a race war, Dylann Storm Roof had little to say for himself in the first of what will be many court appearances. The 21-year-old suspect in Wednesday night's massacre at an African-American church Bible study class spoke only to answer a judge's questions at a 14-minute bail hearing. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 19: (L-R) Sisters Margaret Kerry, Mary Thecla and Kathleen Lang of the Order of the Daughters of St. Paul pray outside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the death penalty for Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, if he is found guilty of murdering nine people during a prayer meeting at the church Wednesday night. Among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church which, according to the National Park Service, is the oldest black congregation in America south of Baltimore. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 18: South Carolina State Senator Joel Lourie (L) comforts Gerald Malloy in the senate chambers June 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Legislators gathered Thursday morning to honor their co-worker Clementa Pinckney and the eight others killed yesterday at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
A man holds up a sign after a vigil outside Morris Brown AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. 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)
People sit on the steps of Morris Brown AME Church while services are held June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. 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)
People say a prayer outside Morris Brown AME Church during a vigil June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. 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)
People sing 'We Shall Overcome' during a service at Morris Brown AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. 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)
US Congressman Jeff Denham (C), R-California, prays with Senator Chris Coons (6th L), D-Deleware, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (5th L), D-Texas, Senator Chuck Grassley (4th L), R-Iowa, and Congressman Joe Wilson (3rd L), R-South Carolina, in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015, during a moment of silence for the nine killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks about the shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, from the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman places flowers at a makeshift memorial near 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)
People visit a makeshift memorial near 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)
US Congressman Jeff Denham (C), R-California, prays with Senator Chris Coons (2nd L), D-Deleware, and Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (L), D-Texas, in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015, during a moment of silence for the nine killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
People visit a makeshift memorial near 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)
A woman prays at a makeshift memorial near 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)
US Congressman Jeff Denham (R), R-California, holds hands with Senator Chris Coons (2nd R), D-Deleware, and Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (C), D-Texas, as they stand with Senator Chuck Grassley (2nd L), R-Iowa, and Congressman Joe Wilson (L), R-South Carolina, in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015, during a moment of silence for the nine killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: Members of the US House ofÃRepresentatives and members of the US Senate and staff gather in a prayer circle in front of the US Capitol to honor those gunned down last night inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, June 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. Police have arrestedÃDylann Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina in the shooting that killed 9 people. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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The attack came in a year that has seen waves of protest across the United States over police killings of unarmed black men in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, sparking some of the largest race riots the nation has seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

From U.S. President Barack Obama, who said the attack stirred memories of "a dark past," to residents on the streets of Charleston, Americans expressed outrage at an act intended to provoke a "race war" in the United States.

"I grew up when racism was just a way of life," said Mary Meynardie, 90, who is white, as she stopped by the police tape that still surrounded the church known as "Mother Emanuel." "I wouldn't have been surprised if it was somebody 60, 70 years old who had that much hate, but where does this hate come from?"

The latest in a series of mass shootings that have rocked the United States also illustrated some of the risks posed by the nation's liberal gun laws, which gun-rights supporters say are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"The elephant in the room is guns. South Carolina and the country have gone gun-crazy," said state Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat who represents Charleston. "How many times do we need to come together? How many times do we need to unite?"

BAIL HEARING

Roof confessed to the attack and said he intended to set off new racial confrontations, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement source. He sat with parishioners for an hour before opening fire and almost did not go through with the attack because he had been welcomed, NBC News reported, citing a law enforcement source.

Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis declined to comment on the reports of a confession.

The alleged shooter is due in court on Friday for a bail hearing, where he will be charged with nine counts of murder as well as a weapons charge, Charleston police said.

In addition to the church's leader and Democratic state Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41, victims included pastors DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; and Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74.

Also killed were Cynthia Hurd, 54, a public library employee; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Tywanza Sanders, 26; and Myra Thompson 59, an associate pastor at the church, according to the county coroner.

'HATE CRIME'

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, told NBC's "Today" show she believed state prosecutors should pursue a death sentence.

The AME church was founded in the early 19th century by black worshippers who were limited in how they could practice their faith at white-dominated churches. The church was rebuilt after being burned down in the late 1820s when one of its founders drafted plans for a slave revolt.


Compounding anger over the killings, the South Carolina capitol continues to fly the Confederate battle flag, the symbol of the pro-slavery South during the U.S. Civil War.

Brooks, the NAACP leader, renewed calls for the flag to be taken down. Roof's car bore the Confederate flag and he posed for a portrait on social media wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

"Some will assert that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of years gone by, a symbol of heritage, not hate," Brooks said. "But when we see that symbol lifted up as an emblem for hate ... that symbol has to come down, that symbol has to be removed from our state capitol."

(Additional reporting by Luciana Lopez and Brian Snyder in Charleston, South Carolina, and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baumand James Dalgleish)

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