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Dylann Roof, accused Charleston church gunman, indicted on federal hate crime charges

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church where nine people were killed in Charleston, S.C. (John Taggart/EPA)

The man accused of gunning down nine people inside a historic African American church in Charleston, S.C., last month has been indicted on federal hate crime charges, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced Wednesday.

Some of these charges carry the death penalty, though Lynch said no decision has been made yet on whether the federal government would seek that sentence.

Dylann Roof was indicted by a federal grand jury in South Carolina and charged with killing and attempting to kill African American parishioners “because of their race and in order to interfere with their exercise of their religion,” Lynch said during a news conference in Washington, D.C.

The 33-count indictment alleges that Roof decided months before the shooting to attack and kill black people, picking the “Mother Emanuel” church in Charleston because of its larger renown and significance. In addition to killing people due to their race, the indictment also states that he attacked people who were exercising their religious beliefs.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday that Dylann Roof faces federal hate crimes and firearms charges that could lead to the death penalty or life in prison. (Video: Reuters)

“Met with welcome by the ministers of the church and its parishioners, he joined them in their Bible study group,” Lynch said. “The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof had his .45-caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets.”

[Remembering the Charleston church shooting victims]

Roof, 21, had already been charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder for the shooting spree. Lynch did not say how the federal charges would affect the state’s prosecution, describing them as “parallel” processes that would make their way through the courts.

The office of Scarlett A. Wilson, the prosecutor for Charleston County, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Lynch thanked Wilson by name “for being such a cooperative and effective partner in this matter.”

The indictment notes that three of the victims of the shooting were between the ages of 70 and 87 years old. According to the federal death penalty statute, one of the aggravating factors that can warrant a death sentence is if the victims are “particularly vulnerable due to old age.”

Lynch said that before the federal government determines whether to seek the death penalty, the families of the church victims would be consulted. Ultimately, Lynch will make the final decision. She said that victims’ families and survivors of the church attack were told earlier Wednesday about the hate crime charges.

Days after the massacre, authorities confirmed that Roof had posted a racist manifesto on his Web site, filled with racial stereotypes and diatribes against black, Jewish and Hispanic people. In one part of the rant, Roof criticized people who only talked online and declared his desire to take action.

“We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet,” he wrote. “Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

The site was also laden with photos of Roof holding a .45-caliber Glock pistol and a Confederate flag. One official said it was last modified just hours before the shooting attack inside the church.

“I have to do it,” the church gunman told his victims, according to Sylvia Johnson, who spoke to a survivor and is a cousin of a pastor who died in the attack. “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

The Post and Courier first reported Wednesday that the federal charges were imminent, while the New York Times first reported that Roof was indicted.

A law enforcement official said last month that Roof was likely to face hate-crime charges stemming from the attack, and an official Justice Department statement said authorities were investigating the shooting “from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism.”

Roof has appeared in court twice since he was arrested the morning after the shooting. During his first appearance, Roof remained impassive on a video feed while relatives of the victims offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul.

Last week, a judge scheduled his trial for July 11, 2016, a little more than a year after the church massacre.

[Survivors of the Charleston church shooting grapple with their grief]

In the days after the shooting, Scarlett A. Wilson, the prosecutor, said she had made no decision about whether to seek the death penalty in the case.

“My first obligation, my primary obligation is to these victims’ families,” Wilson said at a news conference two days after the shooting. “They deserve to know the facts first. They deserve to be involved in any conversations regarding the death penalty.”

However, she said these discussions would wait until the families had time to mourn and grieve. Wilson did not offer any timetable on when a decision would be reached.

[President Obama’s eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, slain in the church attack]

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has described the shooting spree as “an absolute hate crime” and called on prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Under South Carolina law, prosecutors can seek the death penalty if there are certain “aggravating” factors in a case, including if the person has being charged with murdering more than one person during a single act.

Sari Horwitz and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

[This post has been updated.]