(CN) – A flaw in the national background-check system allowed the alleged murderer of nine in a Charleston, S.C., church to buy a gun he never should have gotten his hands on, the FBI said Friday.
The agency said it is initiating an internal review of its procedures, and meeting with the families of the victims to explain exactly what went wrong.
“This case rips all of our hearts out, but the thought that an error on our part is connected to a gun this person used to slaughter these people is very painful to us,” said FBI Director James Comey during a press conference Friday afternoon.
“We are all sick that this happened,” he added. “We wish we could turn back time.”
The FBI said a loophole in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System allowed Dylann Storm Roof to buy a .45-caliber handgun despite his having previously admitted to drug possession.
Prosecutors say Roof carried that gun into the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston on June 17, and then, after spending an hour in a Bible Study class, used the weapon to murder nine of the attendees.
Roof was arrested the following day and charged with nine counts of murder and one count of unlawful possession of a weapon, and could face the death penalty if convicted on those charges.
Earlier this week, a grand jury in Charleston indicted Roof on three additional charges of attempted murder related to victims who were wounded by survived the attack.
Roof’s ability to purchase the gun has been a focus for investigators since the killings. The 21-year-old from Lexington, S.C. was arrested for narcotics possession in February, but because of a recordkeeping error, that information was not correctly entered into the federal justice computer system, the FBI said.
Because Roof had admitted to possessing the drugs, he would have automatically been denied the purchase of the gun.
The FBI director’s press conference came just hours after the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, an event that was directly inspired by the murders of the black churchgoers.
William Nettles and Ann Walsh, Roof’s court-appointed federal public defenders, declined to comment on the FBI’s revelation when contacted Friday afternoon by Courthouse News.
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