LEXINGTON, S.C. — The Facebook profile picture chosen by Dylann Storm Roof in May is thick with symbolism. It shows Mr. 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 — that have been adopted as emblems by modern-day white supremacists.
Mr. Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in North Carolina after law enforcement officers identified him as the suspect in the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday night. The shooting left nine dead, including the pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.
Officials said the shooting was being investigated as a hate crime. Although it was not clear if Mr. Roof had actually joined any organized white supremacist groups, people who knew him said that in recent months, a young man they described as extremely shy had begun to harbor racist views and make increasingly violent statements about attacking black people.
Joseph Meek, 20, a childhood friend who reconnected with Mr. Roof this year, said Mr. 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 Mr. Roof seriously. But he became worried enough that several weeks ago he took away and hid Mr. Roof’s .45-caliber handgun, which Mr. 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.
Now Mr. Meek and his girlfriend, Lindsey Fry, both of whom are white, say they feel guilt about the shooting. “I feel we could have done something and prevented this whole thing,” Ms. Fry said.
Asked why Mr. Roof picked that particular church, Mr. Meek replied, “Because it was a black church.”
Another friend, Dalton Tyler, said that Mr. Roof had begun talking about wanting “to start a civil war.” But like Mr. Meek, he did not always take Mr. Roof seriously.
Mr. Tyler said on another occasion, the two were driving to a strip club by the zoo when Mr. Roof saw a black woman, used a racist word and said, “I’ll shoot your ass.”
“I was just like, ‘You’re stupid,’ ” Mr. Tyler said. “He was a racist; but I don’t judge people.”
Mr. Roof has had two previous brushes with the law, both in recent months, according to court records. In February, he attracted attention at the Columbiana Centre, a shopping mall, when, dressed all in black, he asked store employees “out of the ordinary questions” such as how many people were working and what time they would be leaving, according to a police report.
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When a police officer questioned Mr. Roof, he “began speaking very nervously and stated that his parents were pressuring him to get a job,” but then admitted that he had not asked for applications at any of the stores, the report said.
Asked if he had any contraband, Mr. Roof said no, according to the report, but the officer searched him and found Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opiate addiction and frequently sold in illegal street transactions. Mr. Roof admitted that he did not have a prescription for the drug, the report said, and he was arrested and charged with felony drug possession. The case is pending.
In April, Mr. Roof was charged with trespassing at the same mall. The police report said he had been barred from the mall for a year after the drug arrest. Mr. Roof was convicted on that charge, a misdemeanor.
Mr. Roof’s current address is listed in public records as being in this rural speck of a town southeast of Columbia with an overwhelmingly black population. On Mr. Roof’s Facebook profile, which was taken down Thursday, many of his 88 friends were black. More than half a dozen cars from the Richland County sheriff’s office were parked along the dusty driveway outside the two-story wood-frame home in Eastover. A man in a straw hat came out of the house and told a reporter: “Make your way right back where you came from. Get off the property now.”
From school records, Mr. Roof appears to have moved back and forth as a child between Richland County, which includes Columbia and Eastover, and nearby Lexington County to the west. He attended ninth grade twice: at White Knoll High School in Lexington in the 2008-9 school year and, the next school year, at White Knoll until February 2010, when he transferred to Dreher High School in Columbia. Neither school district had records of his finishing high school.
A neighbor in Eastover, Debra Scott, 50, said that she had seen Mr. Roof walking to and from a nearby market but that she knew very little about him or anyone else who might live in his house. She described the house as “very quiet” and said Mr. Roof “seemed like a normal kid.”
But Ms. Scott, who is black, said she was “scared to death” after hearing news reports that Mr. Roof wanted to kill black people. “My concern is that he’s saying he’s out to kill black people,” she said, unaware that he had been arrested. “We’re the closest ones to him.”
She added that her grandmother had called her Thursday morning and told her: “Get out of that bed. That boy was from Garners Ferry,” the name of the street where she and Mr. Roof lived.
Mr. Meek said that as a child, Mr. Roof would sometimes sleep over at his house. He described Mr. Roof as so quiet and shy that “his mom pushed him out of the house and told him to make friends.” He added, “Every friend he made, I made for him.”
Mr. Roof dropped out of high school after the ninth grade, Mr. Meek said, and the two fell out of touch. But this year, Mr. Roof sent him a Facebook friend request and the two got together again, often to go drinking or to strip clubs. Mr. Roof liked vodka and water, Mr. Meek said, adding, “I never saw him with a girl.”
He said Mr. Roof worked in landscaping and seemed to live an itinerant life, sometimes sleeping in his car. In recent weeks his behavior turned more bizarre, as he talked about wanting to burn an American flag and get his neck tattooed with the word “dagger.”
The friends last saw Mr. Roof on Tuesday when Ms. Fry found him sleeping in his car parked on a sandy patch in front of Mr. Meek’s house. Asked if she considered that odd, Ms. Fry replied, “He does weird things all the time.”
[“source – nytimes.com”]