The suspect in the shootings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, was erroneously able to buy a gun due to a mix-up in a background check which should have revealed an admission of drug possession, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said on Friday.
The examiner of suspect Dylann Roof's federal background check did not see a police report in which Roof admitted to drug possession, which would have barred him from buying the weapon, Comey told reporters at a briefing.
Comey said he had ordered a full review. "We are sick that this has happened. We wish we could turn back time," he said, adding that FBI agents were meeting with victims' families to share the news and that the examiner involved was "heartbroken".
Roof, a 21-year-old white man linked to racist views, is charged in the June 17 shootings at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where the nine were gunned down during a Bible-study session.
The FBI runs background checks for gun dealers in about 30 states, including South Carolina.
According to Comey, on April 13, two days after Roof attempted to purchase a gun, a background check examiner ran his criminal history, which brought up a felony drug charge and listed the arresting agency as Lexington County Sheriff’s Office instead of Columbia Police Department.
A drug charge does not bar an individual from buying a gun, but Roof's admission of drugs possession, contained in the Columbia Police Department arrest report, would have.
The examiner contacted the Lexington sheriff's office for more information, who told her it was not their case. Lexington County prosecutors' office did not respond to a similar request.
A decision was then labeled "delayed/pending" and the gun was sold to Roof on April 16 at the retailer's discretion as allowed under U.S. law.
(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and James Dalgleish)