Saturday 3 December 2016

Man held over US church shootings

Published 18/06/2015 | 05:01

Shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Shelby Police Department (AP)
Shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Shelby Police Department (AP)
Police close off a section of Calhoun Street near the Emanuel AME Church following the shooting (AP)
Police stand outside the Emanuel AME Church following the shooting (AP)
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of the shooting (AP)

A white man who joined a prayer meeting inside a historic black church and then fatally shot nine people was captured without resistance after an all-night manhunt, Charleston's police chief said.

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Dylann Storm Roof, 21, spent nearly an hour inside the church last night before killing six women and three men, including the pastor. A citizen spotted his car in North Carolina and tipped off police, Chief Greg Mullen said. The chief would not discuss a motive.

Charleston mayor Joseph P Riley Jr called it "pure, pure concentrated evil".

Stunned community leaders and politicians condemned the attack on The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department has begun a hate crime investigation.

President Barack Obama, who personally knew the slain pastor, state senator Clementa Pinckney, said these shootings have to stop.

"At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," Mr Obama said.

Mr Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two who became the youngest member of the South Carolina state House when he was elected as a Democrat at 23.

"He had a core not many of us have," said senator Vincent Sheheen, who sat beside Mr Pinckney in the Senate. "I think of the irony that the most gentle of the 46 of us - the best of the 46 of us in this chamber - is the one who lost his life."

The other victims were identified as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; the Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, 74, and DePayne Doctor.

Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said post-mortem examinations would be conducted over the next several days and did not have specific information on how many times the victims were shot or the locations of their injuries.

Roof's childhood friend, Joey Meek, alerted the FBI after recognising him in a surveillance camera image, said Mr Meek's mother, Kimberly Konzny.

Roof had worn the same sweatshirt while playing Xbox videogames in their home recently.

"I don't know what was going through his head," Ms Konzny said. "He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends."

Roof had been to jail. State court records show a pending felony drug case against him, and a past misdemeanour trespassing charge.

He also displayed the flags of defeated white-ruled regimes: a Confederate flag was on his licence plate, Ms Konzny said, and a photo on his Facebook page shows him wearing a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa.

The shooting evoked painful memories of other attacks. Black churches were bombed in the 1960s when they served as organising hubs for the Civil Rights movement, and burned by arsons across the South in the 1990s. Others survived shooting sprees.

This particular congregation, which formed in 1816, has its own grim history. A founder, Denmark Vesey, was hanged after trying to organise a slave revolt in 1822, and white landowners burned the church in revenge, leaving parishioners to worship underground until after the US Civil War.

This shooting "should be a warning to us all that we do have a problem in our society," said state representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat whose district includes the church. "There's a race problem in our country. There's a gun problem in our country. We need to act on them quickly."

"Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained," Riley said. "We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family."

NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks said "there is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people".

A few bouquets of flowers tied to a police barricade outside the church formed a small but growing memorial.

The attack came two months after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighbouring North Charleston that sparked major protests and highlighted racial tensions in the area.

The officer awaits trial for murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. Mr Pinckney was a sponsor of that bill.

"I am very tired of people telling me that I don't have the right to be angry," community organiser Christopher Cason said. "I am very angry right now."

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