Charleston shooting suspect made racist statements, 'planned' attack for 6 months

Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, June 18, 2015 (Reuters / Jason Miczek)
Those who know 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, the man arrested and charged with killing nine people in a historic African-American church, have described him as “smart,” “wild,” “sweet” and “quiet,” but he was also known to make racist comments.

READ MORE: S. Carolina church shooting suspect arrested; identified as Dylann Storm Roof, 21

Witnesses say the suspect sat in on a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina for an entire hour on Wednesday before he began shooting. Roof used a semiautomatic pistol, law enforcement officials said, according to the Washington Post. Three men and six women were killed, while three victims survived.

The cousin of one of the deceased told WIS that she spoke with a survivor who told her that the gunman reloaded five times. He walked up to each victim and took precise aim, rather than spraying gunfire from the back of Emmanuel AME Church, officials said.

“He just said, ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,’” said Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the deceased victims.

The president of the Charleston NAACP, Dot Scott, said the gunman told one survivor he would let her live so that she could tell others what had happened in the church, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.

READ MORE: 9 people killed in S. Carolina church shooting, police investigating ‘hate crime’

Roof’s father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday in April, Carson Cowles, the suspect’s uncle told Reuters.

“Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming,” Cowles said shortly before Roof was arrested. “If it is him, and when they catch him, he’s got to pay for this.”

Dylann Roof is pictured in this undated booking photo provided by the Lexington County Sheriff' Department (Reuters / Lexington County Sheriff' Department)

Arrest records indicate that Roof was detained on charges of felony drug possession in March and misdemeanor trespassing in April of this year. He had no prior criminal record.

The trespassing charge was related to a February incident in which employees at a mall store in Columbia, South Carolina complained about Roof, who was wearing all black and asked “out of the ordinary questions,” CBS News reported. An officer searched Roof and found “orange strips” that Roof said were “suboxone,” a Schedule 3 narcotic. Roof was arrested and banned from the mall for a year, but returned in April.

Suboxone is a drug used to treat opioid dependence. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, one side effect of the medicine is mood swings. It has been connected with sudden outbursts of aggression, InfoWars said.

Roof lived in Lexington, South Carolina, about 120 miles northwest of Charleston, where he had attended White Knoll High School for less than two years. He failed his first year at the school, and then left halfway through his second attempt, the local school district told Reuters. Roof then went to Dreher High School for several months before leaving in 2010.

“He was pretty smart,” high school friend Antonio Metze, 19, told AP. “I can’t believe he’d do something like [the shooting].”

John Mullins, who also went to high school with Roof, remembered the suspect as being “kind of wild.”

“He used drugs heavily a lot,” Mullins told the Daily Beast. “It was obviously harder than marijuana. He was like a pill popper, from what I understood. Like Xanax, and stuff like that.”

“I never thought he’d do something like this,” Metze said. “He had black friends.”

But Roof’s roommate of less than a year told AP that the suspect had been “planning something like that for six months.”

“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Dalton Tyler said. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”

The mother of one of Roof’s childhood friends told AP that she didn’t know why he was in Charleston and that she was not aware of his being involved in any church groups or saying anything racist, but that he displayed a Confederate flag on his front license plate.

“I don’t know what was going through his head,” Kimberly Konzny said. “He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends.”

Her son, Joey Meek, alerted the FBI after seeing the widely circulated surveillance camera images of the suspect. Meek and Konzny immediately recognized Roof in the photos, wearing the same stained sweatshirt he had worn while playing Xbox video games at their home on Tuesday, Konzny said.

Meek told AP he didn’t think twice about picking up the phone and calling authorities.

“I didn’t THINK it was him. I KNEW it was him,” he said.

Roof reportedly had made remarks about the killing of unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida and the riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

“He said blacks were taking over the world. Someone needed to do something about it for the white race,” Meek said. “He said he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. I said, ‘That’s not the way it should be.’ But he kept talking about it.”

Roof had a reputation for spouting racist messages in high school, Mullins said.

“I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” he said. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.”

But now, “the things he said were kind of not joking,” Mullins added.

A Facebook photo shows Roof wearing a jacket with two flag patches: one of Apartheid-era South Africa, and the other of Rhodesia, a white-dominated country that became majority-black-ruled Zimbabwe.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told AP that Roof was not known to his group ‒ which tracks the activities of hate groups and domestic terrorists across the US ‒ but that, based on Roof’s Facebook page, the 21-year-old appeared to be a “disaffected white supremacist.”

In a statement, Cohen said the mass murder is “an obvious hate crime by someone who feels threatened by our country’s changing demographics and the increasing prominence of African Americans in public life.”