The young man with the gun spent almost an hour Wednesday night praying with the people who would become his victims.
Then he opened fire.
Nine died. Three lived. One was wounded. The man drove away in a black Hyundai Elantra.
The historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a congregation formed in 1816 and of such prominence that the faithful revere it as “Mother Emanuel,” was left to tend to its despondent children.
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Fourteen hours after the shooting, 250 miles away in Shelby, N.C., on Thursday, a florist who had heard about the mass killing and the 21-year-old suspected of carrying it out spotted the Hyundai and called police.
Dylann Storm Roof was pulled over. He didn’t resist arrest.
Roof waived extradition and was put on a plane from North Carolina on Thursday afternoon, authorities said.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” President Barack Obama said at the White House. “We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hand on a gun.”
It was in Charleston on Wednesday evening that, six women and three men gathered for a midweek Bible study with their pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, a Democratic state senator.
Surveillance video showed the gunman entering the church. Charleston County Coroner Rae Wilson said the gunman initially didn’t appear threatening.
“The suspect entered the group and was accepted by them, as they believed that he wanted to join them in this Bible study,” she said. Then “he became very aggressive and violent.”
“I have to do it,” the gunman was quoted as saying before he fired. “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Pinckney died. So did Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons, 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59.
“There is a growth in senseless violence,” the Rev. John Richard Bryant, bishop of the fourth district African Methodist Episcopal Church, said at an overflowing vigil for the victims Thursday afternoon. “There’s violence in playgrounds. There’s violence in our homes. There’s violence in our schools. Now there’s violence in our churches.
“And there is one common denominator, and the one common denominator is the gun.”
Many of the people in the pews at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church rose to applaud. But not everyone.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who spoke at the vigil, earlier this year endorsed no longer requiring gun owners to pass training or a criminal background check.
“We woke up today, and the heart of South Carolina was broken,” she told reporters Thursday.
“We shall overcome,” the vigil congregants sang in powerful voices as they held hands and swayed.
Afterward, someone called in a bomb threat. The church was evacuated. The threat was fake.
There would be other bomb scares later Thursday, including after the coroner’s news conference.
A gaggle of reporters, many of them from out-of-town news outlets, were in Charleston to cover events held by two presidential candidates — Democrat Hillary Clinton on Wednesday and Republican Jeb Bush on Thursday. Instead, the reporters found themselves on the police beat, chronicling the country’s latest mass shooting for a national audience.
Bush, flying in a private plane, landed in the Charleston area Wednesday night but never made it into the city. He canceled his campaign event, saying it was no time for politics. The Charleston Maritime Center, rented for his town hall-style meeting, became the site for a series of police news conferences.
Roof’s childhood friend, Joey Meek, called the FBI after recognizing him in the surveillance footage, down to the stained sweatshirt he wore while playing Xbox videogames in Meek’s home the morning of the attack.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Meek said he and Roof had been best friends in middle school but lost touch when Roof moved away about five years ago. The two reconnected a few weeks ago after Roof reached out to Meek on Facebook, Meek said.
Roof never talked about race years ago when they were friends but recently made remarks out of the blue about the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Meek said.
“He said blacks were taking over the world (and) 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.”
He said that when he woke up Wednesday morning, Roof was at his house, sleeping in his car outside. Later that day, Meek went to a lake with a couple of other people, but Roof hated the outdoors and decided he would rather go see a movie.
Meek said he didn’t see his friend again until a surveillance-camera image of a young man with a soup-bowl haircut was broadcast on television Thursday morning in the wake of the Charleston shooting. Meek said he didn’t think twice about calling authorities.
Spilling blood inside Mother Emanuel, founded in 1816, evoked painful memories nationwide, a reminder that black churches so often have been the targets of racist violence.
A church founder, Denmark Vesey, was hanged after trying to organize a slave revolt in 1822, and white landowners burned the church in revenge, leaving parishioners to worship underground until after the Civil War. The congregation rebuilt the church and grew stronger. Martin Luther King Jr. brought the 1960s campaign for voting rights to its pulpit.
Confronted by a hateful shooting in a city that a century and a half earlier served as a flash point for the Civil War, Charleston residents tried to go about their business Thursday. Schools opened. Traffic backed up.
But there were signs that not all was well.
“Put down the guns, young people,” read a large yellow poster a few blocks from Mother Emanuel. Mourners made makeshift memorials with balloons and flowers just outside the police perimeter. The marquee at the American theater on King Street asked for prayers.
The Associated Press and The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.