Charleston mass murder suspect Dylann Roof remained jailed in Shelby on Thursday afternoon even as the process begins to return him to South Carolina.
The 21-year-old Lexington, S.C., resident was arrested just before 11 a.m. Thursday on the western edge of Shelby. Earlier in the morning, authorities say Roof used his ATM card at a gas station at Providence Road and Ballantyne Commons Parkway in Charlotte.
He was pulled over about five hours later and 50 miles away on U.S. 74 and Plato-Lee Road in Shelby, not far from Gardner-Webb University.
Shortly before 4 p.m., the slender Roof, wearing a white T-shirt and a bullet-proof vest, was led handcuffed from the Shelby Police Department to a waiting police car.
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The FBI has identified Roof as the suspect in the Wednesday night slaughter of nine people in perhaps Charleston’s most historic African American church. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia confirmed Thursday that “an active hate crime investigation” is underway.
“The most important point is that the subject is now in custody; the immediate threat to the community does not exist,” said John Strong of Charlotte, head of FBI operations in North Carolina.
Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford said his department received a tip from Kings Mountain police that a black sedan resembling Roof’s car was seen heading west on U.S. 74.
The tip had been called in from Frady Florists in Kings Mountain where Debbie Dills spotted both the car and Roof’s distinctive bowl-shaped haircut, then called police, the Shelby Star reported.
“Since it happened I was praying for them and the church,” she said through tears, according to the paper. “I was in the right place at the right time that the Lord puts you.”
Shelby police pulled over Roof at 10:45 a.m., Ledford said, adding that Charleston police and the FBI were in the town “to work through the process of getting Dylann Roof back to South Carolina.”
It’s unclear why Roof drove to Charlotte. Authorities say he stopped to use an ATM just after dawn. WSOC-TV identified the location as a gas station at Providence Road and Ballantyne Commons Parkway. A worker at a Shell convenience store on that site declined to confirm Roof’s stop, saying she did not want to get into trouble by talking.
In Shelby, the suspect’s black sedan was parked a few feet into the driveway of a white bungalow at a busy intersection on U.S. 74, the main road through the foothills city and a popular route to the North Carolina mountains.
Elaine Elmore, who lives across the highway, said she knew something was wrong when she noticed Shelby police cars. She did not see Roof’s arrest.
“It’s scary to know that could happen right here,” she said, resting in a swing in her yard. “That would scare anybody, to know somebody that cold was right here. He could have come across the street and shot me sitting here.”
Jackie Sibley, a vice president of tourism for the Cleveland County Chamber of Commerce, drove up on the scene shortly after Roof’s arrest. She described her hometown police as “heroes.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia says attorneys they are are working with the FBI and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department in an “active hate crime investigation,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Drake told the Observer.
According to Roof’s Facebook page, the suspect in one of the bloodiest hate crimes on record attended White Knoll High School in Lexington, S.C., a predominantly white suburb of Columbia.
Roof was charged with first-offense drug possession in Lexington County in March, according to court records. The case status is listed as pending.
Nine people died following a shooting at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston on Wednesday night.
Among the dead are S.C. state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a pastor at Emanuel AME, and Cynthia Hurd, the sister of Malcolm Graham, a former N.C. senator from Charlotte.
Reporting from The Charlotte Observer and The (Columbia) State.