SHELBY, NC – The man suspected of killing nine people Wednesday night at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, was arrested Thursday morning about 245 miles away in Shelby, North Carolina, law enforcement authorities said.
Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, was taken into custody without incident about 11:15 a.m. ET during a traffic stop, Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen said Thursday morning.
He said local police were acting on a BOLO (be-on-the-lookout) notice that included a vehicle description, the license tag and the suspect’s name.
Roof was armed with a gun when he was arrested, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.
It’s not clear if it’s the same firearm he allegedly used in the shooting.
A senior law enforcement source told CNN the suspect’s father had recently bought him a .45-caliber gun for his 21st birthday.
President Barack Obama mourned the violence and the victims, saying, “Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about death happening in a place in which we seek solace, we seek peace.”
The slayings took place inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, near the heart of Charleston’s tourist district.
The man spent an hour in a prayer meeting before he opened fire, Mullen said Thursday morning.
A law enforcement official says witnesses told them the gunman stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people.”
Police were searching for information about Roof.
He was charged earlier this year on a trespassing charge in Lexington County, South Carolina.
According to an arrest warrant, Roof was approached by police after a store complained about him.
After a search, police found an unlabeled pill bottle with “multiple orange in color strips” believed to be suboxone, a drug used to relieve painkiller addiction. Roof told police that a friend gave him the drugs.
Authorities are investigating whether Roof (whose last name is rhymes with “cough”) had links to hate groups.
A picture of him on social media showed him wearing a jacket with what appear to be the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that was ruled by a white minority until it became independent in 1980 and changed its name to Zimbabwe.
Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen told a news conference that officers “have obtained surveillance videos of the suspect in this case and a suspect vehicle.”
Mullen said the suspect was a “younger white male between 21 and 25 years of age, 5-foot-9 in height” and “has a very distinctive sweatshirt that has markings.”
Mullen emphasized the suspect is “a very dangerous individual” and said “he should not be approached by anyone.”
Six females and three males were killed in the church, Mullen said.
Among the victims was the church’s politically active pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Pinckney was also a state senator and one of the black community’s spokesmen after the slaying of an unarmed man by a North Charleston police officer this year.
Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, issued a news release identifying a victim as Tywanza Sanders, a 2014 graduate.
Three people survived, including a woman who received a chilling message from the shooter.
“Her life was spared, and (she was) told, ‘I’m not going to kill you, I’m going to spare you, so you can tell them what happened,'” Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott told CNN.
She said she heard this from the victims’ family members.
Federal authorities have opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting at the oldest AME church in the South, the Department of Justice said.
“The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said.
There were 13 people inside the church when the shooting happened — the shooter, the nine people who were killed and three survivors, South Carolina state Sen. Larry Grooms, who was briefed by law enforcement, told CNN.
Two of the survivors were not harmed, he said.
It was not clear if the man targeted any individual.
“We don’t know if anybody was targeted other than the church itself,” Mullen said.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been a presence in Charleston since 1816, when African-American members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church formed their own congregation after a dispute over burial grounds. Known as “Mother Emanuel,” it’s been the headquarters for civil rights activity over the decades.
It was burned to the ground at one point but was rebuilt. Throughout its history, it overcame obstacle after obstacle — destroyed by an earthquake, banned by the state. But its church members persevered, making it the largest African-American church in terms of seating space in Charleston today.
A call for healing
Authorities said they were shocked not only by the killings but that the violence occurred in a house of worship.
“People in prayer Wednesday evening. A ritual, a coming together, praying, worshiping God. An awful person to come in and shoot them is inexplicable,” Mayor Riley said.
The killing put the nation’s spotlight once again on the Charleston region. Several months ago, Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot in the back by a North Charleston police officer, a killing that was captured on video.
Pinckney backed a bill to make body cameras mandatory for all police officers in South Carolina.
“Body cameras help to record what happens. It may not be the golden ticket, the golden egg, the end-all-fix-all, but it helps to paint a picture of what happens during a police stop,” Pinckney said in April.
Riley, who’s seen Charleston go through ups and downs during his 40 years as mayor, said the city must immediately start the healing process. A community prayer meeting will be held Friday at the College of Charleston, not far from the church, he said.
“We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family.”
Mourning started quickly. A prayer vigil was held at midday Thursday in Charleston. On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, organized a vigil.
Dot Scott, the Charleston NAACP leader, said family and friends of the victims gathered at the Embassy Suites motel near the church after the shooting. The city set up a victims’ assistance center there.
“There were at least 50 or more people there,” she said. “There were families of the victims, grandchildren, council members and a bunch of people there.”
Scott said that’s where she heard about the shooter sparing the woman in the church.
“I did not hear this verbatim from the almost victim, I heard it from at least half a dozen other folks that were there and family of the victims,” she said. “There seems to be no question that this is what the shooter said.”
‘Sick to our stomachs’
The church sits in an area of Charleston densely packed with houses of worship and well-preserved old buildings. The streets of the neighborhood are normally filled with tourists.
Charleston, as several church leaders pointed out, is known as the “Holy City” because of its numerous churches and tolerant attitude toward different denominations.
“Like everybody out here, we’re sick to our stomachs that this could happen in a church,” said Rep. Dave Mack, a friend of the church’s pastor.
They called for justice, but also for calm. Theirs is a strong community, they said, and this incident wouldn’t tear them apart.
The president of the NAACP expressed his outrage over the shooting.
“There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture,” Cornell William Brooks said.
Republican presidential candidates canceled campaign events in South Carolina. Jeb Bush canceled a scheduled town hall in Charleston on Thursday.
“As the #Charleston police deem this horrific act a hate crime,” the King Center tweeted, “we pray vigorously that this person’s hate does not cultivate more hate.”
By Ralph Ellis, Evan Perez and Ed Payne. CNN’s Evan Perez reported from Charleston. CNN’s Ralph Ellis wrote from Atlanta, and Ed Payne reported and wrote from Atlanta.