CHARLESTON, South Carolina — When a young white man walked into a Bible study Wednesday night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, no one could have imagined the hatred that led him to the historic black church. Dylann Storm Roof sat with the group for an hour before launching into a deadly rampage in which he killed nine people, allegedly reloading his gun five times, even as one of the churchgoers tried to talk him out of the shooting.
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Clementa Pinckney — the church’s pastor and longtime state senator who was killed in the massacre — recounted a survivor telling her that the gunman asked parishioners to identify the pastor. “He just said ‘I have to do it,’” Johnson said, quoting the witness. “He said ‘you rape our women and you’re taking over our county. And you have to go.’”
The gunman was captured by authorities Thursday morning and later made his first appearance in court, where he waived counsel and extradition. Details of the disturbing narrative began to emerge shortly after the massacre, which is being treated as a hate crime by local officials and the FBI.
The 21-year-old Roof, from Lexington, South Carolina, entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Wednesday around 8 p.m. wearing a gray sweatshirt, jeans, and work-style boots. He joined parishioners in a Bible study and prayer before taking out his gun, according to police.
“They showed him where the pastor was. He sat next to my cousin, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, throughout the entire Bible study,” Johnson told NBC affiliate station WIS-TV. ”At the conclusion of the Bible study, from what I understand they just start hearing loud noises, just ringing out.”
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP, told South Carolina newspaper, the Post and Courier, that a female survivor recounted to family members how the gunman told her he was letting her go so she would be able to tell everyone else what happened.
And family members told ABC News that a 5-year-old child was in the church at the time of the shooting, but was able to survive by playing dead. That girl, who reportedly laid still until the gunman left the building, is now resting in a local hospital.
Meanwhile, authorities said three people managed to survive the attack, while six women and three men were killed. Another victim, Tywanza Sanders, was identified by officials at Allen University, where he was a student. The rest of the victims — who attended one of the oldest African-American churches in the country — have not been identified.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley Jr. called the shooting an “unfathomable and an unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind.”
The family of Walter Scott, a black man who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a white police officer in North Charleston in April, released a statement Thursday condemning the “horrific tragedy” at Emanuel AME Church. “It is our hope that justice will come swiftly,” they said.