Sat, Jun 20, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Suspected shooter held in US black church rampage

IN SHOCK:The shooter was said to have sat in the church for about an hour before opening fire, having not drawn attention, as the historical church is popular with tourists

AFP, CHARLESTON, South Carolina

Shooting suspect Dylann Roof, center, is escorted from the Shelby Police Department in Shelby, North Carolina, on Thursday.

Photo: AP

US police on Thursday arrested a white high-school dropout suspected of carrying out a gun massacre at one of the US’ oldest black churches, the latest deadly assault to fuel simmering racial tensions.

Authorities detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead during a Bible study class on Wednesday evening.

He was caught at a traffic stop in North Carolina and flown back just hours later to Charleston, South Carolina, the scene of the shootings in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Television footage showed the slender suspect boarding a small aircraft with his hands tied and wearing a black-and-white striped prison uniform.

The carnage was the worst at a US place of worship in decades and recalled the darkest periods of the nation’s history, in a church once burned to the ground after a failed slave revolt.

Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said: “I do believe it was a hate crime.”

A friend of the accused, 21-year-old Dalton Tyler, told ABC News that Roof had spoken in support of racial segregation and had said “he wanted to start a civil war.”

Members of the historic church’s mainly black congregation, many of them elderly, had gathered on Wednesday for a Bible study meeting when the shooter walked into the building and sat for about an hour before opening fire.

Sylvia Johnson, a relative of one of the victims, told CNN a survivor had told her that the gunman had made a racist rant during the attack.

Johnson said one of the victims tried to talk the shooter out of more killings after he opened fire.

“He said: ‘No, you’ve raped our women and you’re taking over the country. I have to do what I have to do,’” she told CNN.

Johnson also said the shooter told the victims he left survivors so they could tell the story of the shooting.

Three men and six women were killed and more people were wounded. Among the dead was the church pastor, 41-year-old Clementa Pinckney, who was also a Democratic state senator known to US President Barack Obama.

The other victims were Cynthia Hurd, 54; high-school track coach Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; barber Tywanza Sanders, 26; church worker Ethel Lance, 70; church member Susie Jackson, 87; Reverend DePayne Middleton, 49; vicar’s wife Myra Thompson, 59; and Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74.

“The heart and soul of South Carolina was broken,” tearful state Governor Nikki Haley said.

The shooting came at a time of heightened tension in the US after several high-profile killings of unarmed black men at the hands of white police triggered protests and a national debate on race.

A picture on Roof’s Facebook page showed him wearing a jacket emblazoned with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and former white minority-ruled Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

He was also pictured with a car with a license plate referring to the “Confederate States of America,” the secessionist slave-owning south defeated in the US Civil War.

The Atlantic coast city of Charleston is known locally as “The Holy City,” due to its large number of churches, many of them community anchors for a diverse range of ethnic groups.

The scene in the picturesque city as a traumatic 24 hours drew to a close was one of stunned grief, rather than rage, while a small demonstration took place in New York, where some protesters wept at the loss of life.

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