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Dylann Roof, Charleston suspect, wore symbols of white supremacy

A black jacket he wore and shown on his Facebook profile shows two flags known as emblems by modern-day white supremacists

  • Image Credit: Reuters
  • Dylann Roof, prime suspect in the killing of 9 people inside a black church in Charleston.Image Credit: Video grab

Charleston, 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, against a distinctly Southern backdrop: a swamp dripping with Spanish moss.

His black jacket is 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.

Law enforcement officials identified Roof, 21, as the suspect in the mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston on Wednesday night that left nine dead, including the pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney. Roof was arrested Thursday in North Carolina.

A cousin of Pinckney who had spoken to a witness, Sylvia Johnson, told NBC that the gunman entered the church, asked for the pastor and sat next to him during Bible study before opening fire. "I have to do it," he said, according to Johnson. "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go." The shooting was being investigated as a hate crime.

Roof's current address is listed in public records as Eastover, South Carolina, a very small town southeast of Columbia with an overwhelmingly African-American population. On Facebook, many of his 88 friends are black. He attended high school in Lexington, about 40 miles west of Eastover.

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, Roof appears to have moved back and forth as a child between Richland County, which includes Eastover, and Lexington County.

He attended ninth grade twice: at White Knoll High School in Lexington in the 2008-09 school year and, the next school year, at White Knoll until February 2010, when he transferred to Dreher High School in Richland County. Neither school district had records of his finishing high school.

Dylann Roof suspect

A neighbor, Debra Scott, 50, said that she had seen 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 Roof "seemed like a normal kid."

But Scott, who is black, said she was "scared to death" after hearing news reports that Roof wanted to kill black people. "My concern is that he's saying he's out to kill black people," she said. "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 Garner's Ferry," the name of the street where she and Roof lived.

Roof has had two prior brushes with the law, both in recent months, according to court records. In February, he attracted attention at the Columbiana Centre, a shopping mall, by asking 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. When a police officer questioned 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, 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. 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 continuing.

In April, Roof was charged with trespassing at the same mall. The police report said he had been banned from the mall for a year after the drug arrest. Roof was convicted on that charge, a misdemeanor.

The Daily Beast reported that John Mullins, who went to high school with Roof, described him as a heavy drug user who told racist jokes. He was "kind of wild," Mullins said.

"He used drugs heavily a lot," Mullins added. "He was like a pill popper, from what I understood. Like Xanax, and stuff like that."

Roof "had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say - strong conservative beliefs," Mullins 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."

Now, Mullins added, it appears that Roof was "not joking."

On Twitter, a black woman named Kimberly Taylor who said she had gone to school with Roof wrote, "Dylann use to be a super emo, with long blonde hair and he was pretty quiet." She was apparently referring to a type of music sometimes known as "emotional hard-core."

According to Reuters, one of Roof's uncles, Carson Cowles, said that Roof had received a .45-caliber handgun as a birthday present from his father. A person who answered Cowles' phone said, "I haven't really been associated with him for a number of years, three or four years, so there's really nothing else I can say."

Heidi Beirich, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's intelligence project, which tracks the activity of American hate groups, said the gunman's reported comments reflected a major topic on white supremacist Internet forums, which are preoccupied with the idea that whites are being hugely victimized by blacks and no one is paying attention. The specter of white women being sexually assaulted by black men has a long history as well, she said: "It's probably the oldest racist trope we have in the U.S."

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