Church massacre

White ribbons commemorating victims of the hate crime on a railing outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Police leading suspected killer Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina on Thur
White ribbons commemorating victims of the hate crime on a railing outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
White ribbons commemorating victims of the hate crime on a railing outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Police leading suspected killer Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina on Thur
Police leading suspected killer Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina on Thursday. Roof has had two previous brushes with the law, including one involving a prescription drug used to treat opiate addiction. PHOTO: REUTERS
Reverend Clementa Pinckney (above) and Mr Tywanza Sanders (right), who tried to shield his aunt before both of them were gunned down.
Reverend Clementa Pinckney (above) and Mr Tywanza Sanders, who tried to shield his aunt before both of them were gunned down.PHOTO: REUTERS
Reverend Clementa Pinckney (above) and Mr Tywanza Sanders (right), who tried to shield his aunt before both of them were gunned down.
Reverend Clementa Pinckney and Mr Tywanza Sanders (above), who tried to shield his aunt before both of them were gunned down.PHOTO: TYWANZA SANDERS/ FACEBOOK
PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (above) is one of the oldest, most storied black congregations in the South.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

THE KILLER

LEXINGTON (South Carolina) - The Facebook profile picture chosen by Dylann Storm Roof in May is thick with symbolism. It shows Roof, a scowling young white man, wearing a black jacket adorned with two flags - one from apartheid-era South Africa, the other from white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) - that have been adopted as emblems by modern-day white supremacists.

Roof, 21, was arrested on Thursday in North Carolina after law enforcement officers identified him as the suspect in the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday night. The shooting left nine dead, including the pastor, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney.

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    • Killer: 21-year-old white man with racist views had talked often of attacking black people recently

    • Victims: Six black women and three black men, including pastor

    • Murder site: The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest, most storied black congregations in southern US

    • Obama: Americans have to reckon with the frequent gun violence

Although it was not clear if Roof had actually joined any organised white supremacist groups, people who knew him said that in recent months, a young man they described as extremely shy had begun to harbour racist views and make increasingly violent statements about attacking black people.

Roof's current address is listed in public records as being in Lexington, a small town south-east of Columbia with an overwhelmingly black population. On Roof's Facebook profile, which was taken down on Thursday, many of his 88 friends were black.

Mr Joseph Meek, 20, a childhood friend who reconnected with Roof this year, said Roof had changed, spewing racist ideas and talking about wanting "to hurt a whole bunch of people". "He was saying all this stuff about how the races should be segregated, that whites should be with whites," Mr Meek said.

"I could tell there was something inside him, there was something he wouldn't let go. I was trying to tell him, 'What's wrong?' All he would say was that he was planning to do something crazy."

At first Mr Meek said he did not take Roof seriously. But he became worried enough that several weeks ago he took away and hid Roof's .45-calibre handgun, which Roof had bought with money given to him by his parents for his 21st birthday.

But at the urging of his girlfriend, Mr Meek returned the weapon because he was on probation and did not want to get into trouble.

Another friend, Mr Dalton Tyler, said that Roof had begun talking about wanting "to start a civil war". But like Mr Meek, he did not always take Roof seriously.

"He was a racist; but I don't judge people," Mr Tyler said.

Roof has had two previous brushes with the law, both in recent months, according to court records, including one offence involving a prescription drug used to treat opiate addiction and frequently sold in illegal street transactions. Roof admitted he did not have a prescription.

Mr Meek said Roof worked in landscaping and seemed to live an itinerant life, sometimes sleeping in his car. In recent weeks his behaviour turned more bizarre, as he talked about wanting to burn an American flag and get his neck tattooed with the word "dagger".

NEW YORK TIMES


THE VICTIMS

CHARLESTON (South Carolina) - When Mr Tywanza Sanders, the poet and peacemaker of the family, saw the man draw his gun during Bible study and point it as his elderly aunt, Ms Susie Jackson, he shielded her and tried to talk the gunman into laying down his weapon, a relative said on Thursday.

Instead, the gunman killed Mr Sanders, and then gunned down his aunt and seven other churchgoers who had driven to the church on Wednesday night.

The nine victims - three men and six women, who ranged in age from 26 to 87 years - were leaders, motivators, counsellors and the people everyone could turn to for a heap of prayers, friends and relatives said. Led by Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41, the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who was also a South Carolina state senator, the group included a girls' track coach, a recent college graduate and others devoted to churches in the Charleston area.

Mr Sanders, 26, had graduated from Allen University last year and worked full-time as a barber to pay his bills. He wanted to pursue music production."For him being so young, he was wise," said Mr Sanders' friend Torrence Shaw. "He was always caring and would give the shirt off his back to anybody. He was the first person I would always call to get his wisdom and advice."

Ms Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, who was on the church's ministerial staff, held two roles at Goose Creek High School. She was a speech therapist, and coached the girls' track and field team, the kind of school booster who could never be missed at games because of all the shouting and cheering.

Ms Cynthia Hurd, 54, lived amid books. A librarian for 31 years for the Charleston County library system, Ms Hurd once said in an interview with a local newspaper that she loved finding answers, like a detective. But it was working with people that she loved most about her job, she told the paper.

Ms DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a minister who loved to sing, had retired from county government as head of the Community Development Block Grant Programme in 2005. Last year, she joined her former school, Southern Wesleyan University, as the admissions coordinator.

Like others attending the Bible study, Ms Ethel Lee Lance, 70, was dedicated to Emanuel. She was a sexton at the church and had worked there for three decades, her grandson told The Post and Courier of Charleston.

Ms Jackson, 87, Mr Sanders' aunt, was a longtime Emanuel churchgoer in a spiritually rooted family that considered churchgoing as non-negotiable.

Ms Myra Thompson, 59, had travelled over from Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church, the church where her husband, Reverend Anthony Thompson, serves as vicar, to join the study group.

Reverend Daniel Lee Simmons Sr, 74, had made a similar journey. He was a retired pastor from another church but would regularly stop by Emanuel, according to his daughter-in-law Arcelia Simmons of Newport News, Virginia.

NEW YORK TIMES


THE MURDER SITE

CHARLESTON - The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest, most storied black congregations in the South. Its members met in secret in the years when black churches were outlawed here before the Civil War, and it contains a shrine to one of its founders, who helped organise a slave revolt in 1822.

So the mass shooting that took the lives of nine churchgoers had a particularly deep resonance here in this genteel city, proud and mindful of its history but still torn by race and class.

"Emanuel AME Church is the rock upon which the AME Church throughout the South is built," said Democratic Representative for South Carolina James E. Clyburn. "That church has more historic significance to Charleston than any other church in this community."

"This church is much more than a place where people sing Gospel," said Edward Ball, author of Slaves In The Family, a history of Low Country South Carolina. "It's tethered to the deep unconscious of the black community," he added.

Charleston's historic district has always been home to the city's white elite, built on wealth from the slave trade and rice that was cultivated with slave labour. Many of the African-Americans who were able to remain in the historic district over the past century have been chased out more recently by gentrification and soaring property values.

But Emanuel AME has remained firmly ensconced in what is known as the "Holy City", a name inspired by all its church spires. With its prideful reminders of its legacy of rebellion, "Mother Emanuel", as it is known by blacks, is still "symbolically recognised by everyone as the thorn in the side of the white body - at the very centre of town, the very centre of white society", Mr Ball said.

NEW YORK TIMES


THE REACTIONS

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama expressed anger over the "senseless" shooting and said Americans had to confront the fact that frequent incidents of gun violence do not occur in other advanced countries.

Mr Obama said he and his wife Michelle knew Reverend Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the historic African-American church in Charleston, who died in the shooting. "Let's be clear: 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 advanced countries," Mr Obama told reporters in a sombre statement at the White House on Thursday.

Later, he told donors at a Democratic party fund-raiser at the home of African-American actor Tyler Perry that the shootings were "a reminder that we've got a lot of work to do".

"If you're dissatisfied that every few months we have a mass shooting in this country killing innocent people, then I need you to mobilise," Mr Obama said, urging people to elect candidates who push for change.

Following the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, the President launched an aggressive gun control push, but his efforts largely failed in Congress.

Wednesday's mass killing has again fuelled simmering racial tensions in the United States.

In New York, about 60 demonstrators gathered on Thursday calling for an end to killings of African Americans in the country. The protesters, black and white, held aloft placards that read "Black lives matter" and "Stop killing black people" in Union Square in Manhattan.

On Thursday evening, mourners returned to the church for a vigil, placing candles outside the building next to a growing memorial of flowers, plush toys, balloons and placards. A woman played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes across the street.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina, joined the subdued crowd of blacks and whites paying respects. He laid a bunch of flowers, then stood and prayed for a few moments. "It is very hard to understand this. To go into God's space and do this - I just do not understand," Senator Graham told reporters.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Church massacre'. Print Edition | Subscribe