Dylann Roof, the man accused in the mass shooting last month at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on 33 counts, including federal hate crime charges, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced.
“As set forth in the indictment several months prior to the tragic events of June 17, Roof conceived of a goal of increasing racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs that he believed African Americans had committed against white people,” Lynch said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “To carry out these twin goals of fanning racial flames and exacting revenge, Roof further decided to seek out and murder African Americans because of their race.”
The state charges against Roof “do not reflect the alleged hate crimes offenses presented in the federal indictment,” Lynch added, noting that South Carolina does not have a hate crimes statute.
Roof is accused of walking into a Bible study session at Emanuel AME Church on June 17 and opening fire with a handgun, killing nine people. The victims included the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, who was also a longtime Democratic member of the state Senate.
Roof could face the death penalty in South Carolina, Lynch said Wednesday, adding that “no decision has been made whether to seek that penalty.”
Asked about domestic terrorism charges, Lynch said that while there was no specific statute, “hate crimes as I’ve stated before are the original domestic terrorism. And we feel that the behavior that is alleged to have occurred here is archetypal behavior that fits the federal hate crimes statutes and vindicates their purpose.”
The tragedy renewed an often fraught conversation about race in the United States, and spurred legislation that brought the Confederate flag down from outside the South Carolina Statehouse.
“Mother Emanuel was his destination specifically because it was a historically African American church of significance to the people of Charleston,” Lynch said. “The parishioners had Bibles, Dylann Roof had his 45 caliber glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets.”
The victims’ family members were informed earlier of the indictment.
The FBI recently announced that a background check failure allowed Roof to illegally purchase a .45-caliber Glock handgun on April 11, eight days after he turned 21, at Shooter’s Choice in West Columbia, South Carolina. Roof had previously acknowledged drug possession, according to the FBI.
Roof’s criminal trial is scheduled to begin on July 11 next year.
Additional reporting by James Novogrod and Halimah Abdullah.