Police say he walked into the church and fatally shot nine people as they attended Bible study class. Witnesses told officials Roof — who is now at the center of a major manhunt, reportedly said he was at the church to shoot black people, a source told CNN.
A female survivor told family members that the gunman told her he was letting her live to tell everyone else what happened, Dot Scott, president of the local branch of the NAACP, told CNN.
Scott said she had not spoken to the survivor directly but had heard this account repeated at least a dozen times as she met with relatives of the victims Wednesday night. Scott added that she didn’t know if the survivor had ended up at the hospital or being questioned by police.
Because of the church’s historic significance, it is not unusual for visitors, whether white or black, to visit it, Scott said. She said she’d had no indication that any children were among the victims.
Mullen told the news conference the suspect had been in the church attending a meeting that was going on — and “stayed there almost an hour with the group before the actual event.”
But he declined to comment on whether the suspect had let one woman escape.
The suspect was seen leaving the church in a black four-door sedan, the flier says. “The vehicle you will see has a very distinctive front license plate,” Mullen added, but did not give further details on what made it stand out.
He appealed for the media to help in circulating the suspect’s image and for the public to be vigilant. The clean-shaven man pictured wears a gray sweatshirt over a white T-shirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots.
Police are “going through all kinds of video” and trying to identify any private or public video that may show anything useful for the investigation, Mullen said.
“No one in this community will ever forget this night and as a result of this and because of the pain and the hurt this individual has caused this entire community, the law enforcement agents are committed and we will catch this individual,” he said.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley echoed that sentiment, saying everything must be done to find a culprit he described as “somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind.”
The man is a “no-good, horrible person” who must be taken into custody as soon as possible, he said. “Of course we will make sure he pays the price for this horrible act.”
Police have not yet said what the suspect’s motivation in the attack might have been but are investigating it as a hate crime.
Charleston police public information officer Charles Francis said the victims were “killed because they were black.”
Six of those killed in Wednesday night’s attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were female and three male. The victims included the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
A statement from the Georgia branch of the NAACP said, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”