'He couldn't attack a school because of the security, so I think he settled for a church'
A black drinking buddy of the white man accused of killing nine people at a Charleston church says the suspect told him a week earlier that he planned to shoot up a college campus in the city.
The friend, Christon Scriven, said on Friday that he thought Dylann Roof's statements were just drunken bluster. Still, Scriven said he was concerned enough that he and another friend, Joey Meek, went out to Roof's car and retrieved his .45-calibre handgun, hiding it in an air-conditioning vent of a mobile home until they all sobered up.
"He just said he was going to hurt a bunch of people" at the College of Charleston, said Scriven (22).
"I said, 'What did you say? Why do you want to hurt those people in Charleston?'"
"He just said, 'In seven days. I have seven days'."
A week later, on Wednesday, 21-year-old Roof went into Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, sat for nearly an hour at a Bible study class, and then opened fire on the participants.
The exchange recounted by Scriven matches accounts from other friends of Roof who have been interviewed.
They described him as a troubled and confused young man who alternated between partying with black friends and ranting against blacks to his white friends.
Four months before the deadly shooting rampage, Roof was arrested at a shopping mall on a misdemeanour drug charge after going around dressed all in black, asking suspicious questions about when stores closed and employees left for the night. He was later arrested again, this time for trespassing at the mall despite being banned from the premises.
On his Facebook profile, Roof posted a photo of himself wearing a jacket adorned with the flags of the now defunct white-supremacist regimes in South Africa and the former Rhodesia, yet he also counted several black people among his online social connections.
Scriven lives next door to Joey Meek in a mobile-home park where residents say Roof was a frequent visitor in recent months. Meek and his family were close to Roof until Roof dropped out of their high school. The two lost touch for several years before recently reconnecting, Meek said.
Meek recounted how Roof had complained while getting drunk on vodka that "blacks were taking over the world" and that "someone needed to do something about it for the white race". Meek says Roof also told him he used birthday money from his parents to buy a .45-calibre Glock semi-automatic handgun.
Scriven said he first met Roof through Meek and they frequently drank together in recent weeks. They talked about fishing and guns, Scriven said, but never race.
"One night, we all got drunk together and since then, me and Dylann were just homeboys," Scriven said. "We would just chill every day."
Soon, Roof began opening up. Scriven said Roof confided that he was unhappy, bouncing between the homes of his divorced parents. He would stay for days at the mobile-home park, smoking cigarettes and drinking hard, Scriven said. Then, he would go home for a day or two to get clothes and money.
Scriven said he could tell Roof was depressed, and that he complained that he wasn't getting the love and emotional support he needed from his parents. When he got upset, Roof would retreat to his car, blasting tapes of opera.
"I don't think his parents liked his decisions, the choices that he made to have black friends," Scriven recounted. "His mom had taken the gun from him and somehow he went back and took it from her. That's when we saw the gun for the first time: .45 with a high-point laser beam."
Last week, while they were drinking in the back of Scriven's house, Roof blurted out his plan about carrying out a mass shooting at the College of Charleston.
"I don't think the church was his primary target because he told us he was going for the school," Scriven said. "But I think he couldn't get into the school because of the security, so I think he just settled for the church."
Scriven said he told Meek about what Roof had said, and the two of them decided to take Roof's gun. They hid the gun in Meek's trailer. But Meek's girlfriend later told them they needed to get the gun out of the house. So they gave it back to Roof.
When Scriven saw this week that Roof was arrested, he said it hit him "that he actually did all the stuff he said he was going to do, like he actually killed these people".
None of them took the statements seriously.
"Everyone feels guilt," Scriven said. "There are a lot of things that happen in life that we just don't understand and we'll never understand. And this situation is something that you're not going to find the answers to from ordinary people. The only person that can tell you is Dylann."
Meanwhile, a National Rifle Association executive in Texas has suggested that a South Carolina lawmaker and pastor, slain in the attack, bears some of the blame for his opposition to permitting concealed handguns in church.
Houston-based lawyer Charles Cotton, listed as a national NRA board member on the gun lobby's website, spoke via an online chat room called texaschlforum.com.
In an online thread about Wednesday shooting, Cotton said that one of the nine people slain, church pastor and Democratic State Senator Clementa Pinckney, had voted against legislation in 2011 that would have allowed concealed possession of handguns in restaurants, day-care centres and churches.