The 21-year-old killer who murdered nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, reportedly uttered the same five words repeatedly before opening fire — “You’re taking over our country.”
Dylann Storm Roof, who is still at large, entered the Emanuel AME church on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston on Wednesday evening and sat with victims for nearly an hour during a prayer meeting. Shortly before opening fire, the gunman began repeating the phrase, the New York Daily News reports.
The shooting left six women and three men dead, while three others — allegedly including a young child — survived. According to reports, Roof told survivors that he let them live so that they could inform people of what he’d done.
One of the victims was state Sen. and Emanuel church pastor Clementa Pinckney, whose cousin revealed to reporters what the shooter was believed to have told victims before the shooting began.
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“He just said ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go,’” Sylvia Johnson said. Roof reloaded his weapon five times as those inside the church begged him to stop. He subsequently fled and has been on the loose since.
He is described as a white man, 21 years old, with sandy blonde hair, according to the Charleston City Paper. He was identified as Roof by the FBI on Thursday morning. Multiple agencies including the FBI and ATF have joined Charleston County Sheriff's Office and S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) in searching for Roof and investigating the shooting.
The Charleston Police Department released these pictures of the shooting suspect:
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“We have investigators that are out tracking leads that are coming in, and we will continue to do that until we find this individual who has carried out this crime tonight and bring him to justice,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said. Mullen categorized the shooting as a hate crime.
“I do believe this was a hate crime,” he said. Mullen said that the mass shooting would be investigated as such.
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