At his bond hearing Friday, relatives of some of the victims offered their forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul. Roof, who appeared in a video feed from a detention center in North Charleston, S.C., was impassive as the victims’ relatives spoke, mostly staring down, his eyes avoiding the camera trained on his face.
Two people familiar with the ongoing investigation told The Washington Post that after his Thursday arrest in Shelby, N.C., Roof told police he targeted one of the nation’s oldest black churches because he wanted to ensure that he would avoid killing white people.
Roof also said he “almost didn’t go through with it because they were so nice to him,” according to one source, a state lawmaker who has been briefed by police. However, he said: “I knew I had to complete my mission.”
In the midst of killing nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Roof said something particularly chilling, the source said: “You all are taking over our country. Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.”
Since his arrest, Roof has not only confessed to being responsible for the Wednesday night carnage, but said he wanted his actions known, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was unfolding.
A federal law enforcement official told The Post that there were multiple survivors, including a child.
Friends and relatives of those survivors have given different, sometimes contradictory accounts of what the alleged gunman said as he opened fire.
Sylvia Johnson — a relative of Emanuel AME pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine victims — told NBC affiliate WIS-TV that one of the survivors told her that the suspect reloaded his pistol five times.
One of the victims, Johnson said, tried “to talk him out of doing the act of killing people. He just said ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.'”
Kristen Washington said her relatives included survivors of the church shooting. She told the New York Times that before he stood up and drew his weapon, Roof began to disagree with others in the group about scripture. Once his weapon was drawn, she said that her cousin, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, tried to persuade the gunman not to hurt anyone.
“You don’t have to do this,” he told the gunman, Ms. Washington recounted.
The gunman replied, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”
The gunman took aim at the oldest person present, Susie Jackson, 87, Mr. Sanders’s aunt, Ms. Washington said. Mr. Sanders told the man to point the gun at him instead, she said, but the man said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to shoot all of you.”
Mr. Sanders dived in front of his aunt and the first shot struck him, Ms. Washington said, and then the gunman began shooting others. She said Mr. Sanders’s mother, Felicia, and his niece, lay motionless on the floor, playing dead, and were not shot.
William Dudley Gregorie, a member of the Charleston City Council, told the New York Times that Roof told one of the survivors “that she was going to live so that she can tell the story of what happened.”
When Roof entered Emanuel AME, it was not his first time in a church, according to the Huffington Post. Roof was a member of a Lutheran church in Columbia, the church’s pastor told the blog.
“He was on the roll of our congregation,” the Rev. Tony Metze of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church said.
The pastor declined to comment about how often Roof had attended the church or if he’d made any recent visits, according to the Huffington Post.
Joey Meek Jr., a friend of Roof’s since childhood, described him as quiet and shy growing up. As a child, he told the New York Times, Roof’s mother “pushed him out of the house and told him to make friends.”
“Every friend he made, I made for him,” he added.
The two friends lost touch after middle school, before reconnecting earlier this year when Roof reached out to Meek on Facebook, Meek told The Post. During their years apart, Meek realized, his old friend had changed.
Now Roof also slept in his car, behaved erratically and said he wanted to tattoo the word “dagger” on his neck, Meek told the Times.
In the months before the Wednesday shooting, Roof lived on and off in a mobile home that he shared with five people, including a distant high school friend, and three dogs. In interviews Thursday, two of those residents — along with one other neighbor who knew Roof — described a mostly-silent character who listened to opera, survived on ramen noodles and Rice-A-Roni, occasionally used cocaine, often drank whiskey and vodka to the point of passing out, and kept a gun in the trunk of his Hyundai.
“He didn’t get along with either of his parents,” Meek’s younger brother, Justin, said. “But sometimes, they’d both call him.”
One day before the shooting, Joey Meek, his girlfriend, and youngest brother Jacob took a ride with Roof to nearby Lake Murray, north of Lexington, S.C. The group intended to go together, but Roof instead said he wanted to drop them off. He said he had a cinema gift certificate and was going to watch “Jurassic World” by himself. Jacob Meek said Roof had a black backpack in the back seat of his car.
“When I moved it,” Jacob Meek, 15, said, “he said, ‘Hey, there are magazines in there.’
“At first I thought it was, you know, reading magazines. But now I don’t know.”
The Meeks never saw Roof again. He did not stay at their home Tuesday night.
The Meeks, as well as Christon Scriven, 22, a neighbor who is African American, said they never saw signs of racism. But they did say he sometimes talked about violence.
“I don’t think he hated blacks,” Scriven said. “I think he hated humans.”
Scriven said that one recent night when they were drinking outside Roof talked about shooting up a school. On a different date, he talked more specifically about going on a shooting spree at the College of Charleston.
“He never said the n-word, he never made racial slurs, he never targeted a specific black person,” Meek told ABC News. “He never did any of that so it was just pretty much a shock.”
And yet, he recalled that the suspect would rant that “blacks were taking over the world” as the pair got drunk, the Associated Press said. Roof railed that “someone needed to do something about it for the white race,” Meek, the former friend, told the AP.
Roof’s former roommate, Dalton Tyler, said Roof seemed to have been plotting some kind of violence “for six months.” according to ABC News. “He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler told the network. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
Those around Roof in recent months also say he was sometimes hard to keep track of and could have been good at keeping secrets.
“He’d be here [at the Meek house] for three days, then gone for three days,” Scriven said. “My question — where would he go in between? Nobody knows.”
Roof’s friend weren’t the only ones who were aware of his troubling behavior. His uncle, Carson Cowles, told Reuters that his nephew seemed directionless.
“I said he was like 19 years old, he still didn’t have a job, a driver’s license or anything like that and he just stayed in his room a lot of the time,” Cowles said.
Cowles told Reuters he attempted to “mentor” his nephew, but the young man resisted.
“He didn’t like that, and me and him kind of drifted apart,” Cowles said.
Meek’s mother, Kimberly Konzny, told the AP that she and her son immediately recognized Roof in the surveillance image released by police. Roof had been wearing the same stained sweatshirt when he dropped by their home to play Xbox video games, she said. She noted that the stains were the result of his job working at a landscaping and pest control business.
“I don’t know what was going through his head,” she said. “He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends.”
A fascination with racism
A person familiar with the investigation told The Post that police found hate videos at Roof’s house and “skinhead” material at his mother’s home.
And there are signs on social media that Roof was fascinated with historical racism. Roof’s apparent Facebook profile photo shows him skulking in the woods, wearing a jacket with at least two conspicuous patches.
The patches, as the Southern Poverty Law Center quickly noted, are the old flags of racist, white-minority regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where white minorities governed majority-black populations through racist laws and brutality. For American white supremacists, apartheid South Africa and renegade Rhodesia have often stood as cautionary tales of what happens when whites relinquish their political power.
Roof’s other clothing – a Myrtle Beach T-shirt and a Hulk T-shirt — were confiscated by the FBI when they visited a friend’s to question those who had interacted with the alleged shooter, according to ABC News.
But when viewed early Thursday, the profile indicated that roughly half of Roof’s 80 Facebook friends are black.
“I never thought he’d do something like this,” said a high school friend, Antonio Metze, 19, who is black. “He had black friends.”
Roof’s car featured a license plate decorated with the Confederate flag, according to a law enforcement official and one of Roof’s friends.
According to friends and relatives, Roof in his youth was a quiet, shy boy who mostly kept to himself. He didn’t get into trouble. He didn’t especially stand out while growing up in the rural town of Gaston, on the distant fringe of South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia. The AP reports that as a youth, Roof liked to skateboard and had long hair.
“He was quiet, strange, very unsocial and everyone thought he was on drugs,” Graham said, relaying the description from his niece.
“No one at home [in South Carolina] believes this represents us,” he added. “We don’t want to be judged by him.”
A turning point appeared to have been high school, when Roof dropped out of the ninth grade from White Knoll High School in the suburbs of Columbia. He left school in February 2010, school officials said, and finished out the year at another high school in Columbia, officials said, but never returned.
Roof lived about 15 miles southeast of the state capital, in Eastover, court records show. He was arrested twice earlier this year, once on a drug charge and later for trespassing, records show. Both arrests occurred near Columbia.
He was found guilty of trespassing, but the drug charge was still pending. He was fined $262.50, which he elected to pay off in installments.
According to one person familiar with Roof’s history, he was referred for drug or alcohol treatment as a minor to state Department of Social Services but never showed up for treatment.
Roof had an apparent affinity for firearms. Around his birthday in April, he obtained a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun, which his father either bought for him or gave him the money to buy, according to law enforcement officials. The gun was purchased legally, law enforcement officials told The Post.
When Roof was arrested Thursday in Shelby, N.C. — about 250 miles from Charleston — he had that same model of gun on his person, authorities said.
Roof’s family was shocked by his alleged actions.
Friday evening, his relatives released a statement offering their “deepest sympathies and condolences to families of the victims,” according to ABC News.
“Words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred,” the statement said.
“We have all been touched by the moving words from the victims’ families offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.”
It was Roof’s sister, Amber, who called authorities after seeing the surveillance photo of her brother on television, said law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Amber Roof was due to be married Sunday, according to theknot.com, a wedding Web site. Although authorities haven’t said why Roof fled to Shelby, his sister’s fiance, Michael Tyo, lives three miles from where Roof was captured in a residential neighborhood of brick ranch-style houses.
Tyo, a recruiter for the U.S. Army Reserve, declined to comment Thursday while packing up his children and the family dog for what appeared to be a trip.
Back in Gaston, Roof’s uncle, Cowles, wiped away tears outside his mobile home as he talked to a Post reporter:
“Even as he described Roof as a quiet young man who kept out of trouble, Cowles shook with anger at the thought that his nephew could have carried out the crime with which he is accused.”
“I’d be the executioner myself if they would allow it,” he said.
Jeremy Borden, Ishaan Tharoor, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Jerry Markon and Mark Berman contributed to this report.