(CN) – The white gunman suspected of massacring nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., has been caught, Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. said Thursday.
Dylann Storm Roof, of Lexington, S.C., was arrested at about 11:20 a.m. Thursday during a traffic stop near Shelby, N.C., about an hour west of Charlotte. He is accused of entering Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Wednesday night, sitting through an hour-long Bible-study class, and then shooting six woman and three men to death.
Among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41,who had campaigned vigorously as a state senator for police to wear body cameras after several police shootings of unarmed black men across the country.
Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten identified the other victims as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said police were alerted to Roof’s whereabouts by a citizen who recognized his car from early morning news reports. He said Roof did not put up a fight or try to flee after he was pulled over by police in North Carolina, and he described Roof’s demeanor as “cooperative.”
Mullen said investigators with the FBI, South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Division, and the city Police Department were en route to North Carolina to continue their investigation and bring Roof back to Charleston to face trial.
Riley, who was first elected mayor of Charleston in December 1975, and is in the waning months of his 10th and final term, described the shooting as a “heinous crime” committed by an “awful man with a deranged mind.”
“Thankfully, this individual is now in custody, where he will always remain,” Riley said. “We hold sacred the places where people come to practice their faiths in safety and peace … The arrest of this awful man is important for all of is … as we begin the necessary process of healing together.”
Riley said among those who reached out to the city Thursday morning were President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who called him “personally to express their sorrow and to offer any assistance they could to the city.”
Moments after Riley spoke, President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room to comment on the Charleston shootings.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times … Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times,” the president said.
“We don’t have all the facts, but we know that once again innocent people were harmed because someone who wanted to inflict harm was able to get their hands on a gun. 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 developed countries.”
Law enforcement officials said Roof was arrested in March on a felony drug charge, which is pending, and was previously arrested on a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
Chief Mullen declined to speculate on why a resident of the South Carolina Midlands would travel to Charleston to carry out the murders or why he chose the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as his victims.
“This is a tragic situation that has touched the heart and soul of every person in this community,” Mullen said. “But it may be some time before we have the answers to those questions. There’s a long way to go in the prosecution.”
Witnesses told reporters gathered a short distance from the church Thursday morning that the gunman reloaded several times during the attack, and said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country … and you have to go.”
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday morning the Justice Department has opened a hate crime investigation.
Standing alongside Mayor Riley and Mullen, an emotional South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said: “We woke up today and the heart and soul of [the state] was broken. … Having said that, we are a strong and faithful people, and most of all we love each other. …”
Wiping away tears, Haley added: “You will see all of us try to lift these nine families up in prayer.”
Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, said in a statement: “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”
The shooting came on an evening when there was an unusual amount of media in Charleston.
Hillary Clinton was attending a local fundraiser prior to the shooting at a home less than half a mile away, and left before the shooting occurred.
She later tweeted: “Heartbreaking news from Charleston – my thoughts and prayers are with you all.”
Jeb Bush canceled a campaign event scheduled for Thursday at the Charleston Maritime Center, less than a mile from the scene of the shooting.
The church was founded in 1816 by African American former members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
One of the church’s founders, Denmark Vesey, was a former slave who led a 19th-century revolt in Charleston.
Among those who have spoken at the church over the ensuing decades are Booker T. Washington, who spoke to a crowd of black and white attendees in March 1909, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who used its pulpit in 1962 to urge local black residents to register to vote.
Mayor Riley announced the city has started a new fund to provide assistance to the families of the victims, the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, and has contributed $5,000 in seed money. He also said a community vigil in honor of the shooting victims will be held at the College of Charleston on Friday evening.
“This is a tragedy we will never forget, and I, and I know everyone in Charleston appreciates that law enforcement was able to resolve this so quickly,” the mayor said. “One of the wonderful things about America is we don’t let bad people get away with these dastardly deeds.”
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