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Religious Tolerance logo

Mass murder at church in Charleston, SC

Part 1 of 11:
2015-JUN-17 & 18: Church massacre
in Charleston, SC
, targeting Blacks.
The church itself. The alleged
perpetrator. His motivation.

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A quotation by Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine victims of the shooting who was also a state Senator:

"Across the South we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven't always had a deep appreciation for each other's history."

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The events of JUN-17 & 18:

Nine church members were murdered by a lone gunman at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on JUN-17. They were: Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Rev. Clementa Pickney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons, 74; Sharonda Singleton, 45, and Myra Thompson, 59.

The massacre happened in the oldest AME church in the American South, during a Wednesday evening Bible study. The alleged perpetrator, Dyllan Storm Roof, 21, is a white male. A church security camera shows that he arrived at the church just after 8 PM. He sat with members of the church for almost an hour. It appears that all were strangers to him. He allegedly told police later that the people at the meeting were so nice that he almost abandoned his plan to murder them.

However, he did carry out his original plan. He opened fire on those present, and murdered 9 people: six women and three men. He shot each victim multiple times and reloaded his gun repeatedly. One victim was a pastor who was also a state Senator: Clementa Pinckney.

Witness at the scene say that the gunman stood up and said that he was there to "shoot Black people." A man who was attending the Bible study asked him to stop. According to church member Sylvia Johnson, he responded:

"No, you've raped our women, and you are taking over the country. I have to do what I have to do." 1

Roof's arrest warrant stated that:

"Prior to leaving the Bible study he stood over a witness ... and uttered a racially inflammatory statement." 1

One of the survivors, Sylvia Johnson, overheard the gunman ask a woman at the meeting whether he had shot her. When she said no, he allegedly said:

"Good, ... we need a survivor because I'm going to kill myself." 2

The suspect headed North in his car and was arrested the next morning in Shelby, NC just over the state border. He was spotted by a local citizen who tipped off the police. This was Roof's third arrest for 2015, the previous arrests were for felony drug possession and misdemeanor trespassing. This time, he was charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and nine counts of murder.

Local and federal law enforcement are investigating the incident as a hate crime. On JUN-19, the federal Justice Department issued a statement, saying in part:

"This heartbreaking episode was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism." 2

The incident reignited a controversy over the flying of the Confederate Flag beside the South Carolina's Capitol building in Columbia. It is sometimes referred to as the Confederate Battle Flag, or more accurately as the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. The flag is widely considered a symbol of resistance to the "War of Northern Aggression" and an important symbol of Southern heritage by many South Carolinians. It is also widely viewed as a symbol of racism, oppression, and human slavery by others. Even as other flags were lowered to half mast to recognize the massacre in Charleston, the Confederate flag remained at the top of its mast. In fact, there is no mechanism to lower it.

By coincidence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on JUN-18 that Texas did not violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when it refused to allow the Confederate flag to be shown on automobile license plates in the state.

Needless to say, the Thursday morning edition of the Charleston newspaper -- the Post and Courier -- featured an article on Page 1 that dealt with the massacre. The headlines read, in a very large font: "Church attack kills 9. Manhunt on for suspect after 'hate crime' shooting at Emanuel AME." 8 In a tragic coincidence, a sale coupon by a local gun shop was attached to the front page of some copies. Not the best of timing! The newspaper apologized.

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About the church itself:

The church is located on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston. It is in an area that prior to 1980 was predominately Black, but is now mainly white. It is near the south extreme of the peninsula on which Charleston is situated. Roof allegedly told investigators that he had studied the history of the church and selected it as the scene of his mass murder because it was a historic African American church.

It was located less than a mile from Charleston's historic slave market. The original building on the site was built in 1816. Denmark Vesey was one of its founders. He attempted to organize a slave revolt in the city. The plan was discovered, the church was burned, and Vesey was executed, along with 34 others.

Tom Foreman, writing for CNN said:

"Through it all, as the oldest AME church in the south, Emanuel stood as a beacon to those who would stand up for Black rights in a white-dominated world.

'People like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks,' said historian Douglas Brinkley from Rice University. 'The AME church is always about human rights and civil rights. The AME church really tries to organize people for social change within our political structure. ... There's been nothing quite this grim (in years) where you have someone lurking in a church and massacring people because they're Black'," 3

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About Dyllan Roof, the alleged perpetrator:

Roof's friends and roommate recall his tirades against African Americans who he felt were "taking over the world." He had talked about his desire to reinstate racial segregation and ignite a race-based civil war in the U.S. 4 Unfortunately, neither his friends nor his roommate took him seriously.

His friend, Joey Meek, told CNN:

He wanted it to be white with white, and black with black. He had it in his mind, and he didn't really let nobody know (what he was going to do). ... Dyllan wasn't a serious person; no one took him serious. But if someone had taken him serious, this would all have been avoided." 5

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woman holding sign saying "Why?" What was his Roof's motivation?

If one considers:

  • His statement that he was trying to trigger a race war;

  • His coat which bore two commonly used white supremacist symbols: the flag of South Africa during the Apartheid era, and the prior flag of Zimbabwe when the country was called Rhodesia and was run by a white supremacist government; 5

  • The Confederate Flag on his car's license plate;

  • Multiple statements recalled by survivors of the massacre; and

  • The racist manifesto that he allegedly placed online, then

it appears obvious that the driving force behind Roof's actions was racism -- specifically his hatred of African Americans.

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Ray Sanchez & Ed. Payne, "Charleston church shooting: Who is Dylan Roof?," CNN, 2015-JUN-19, at:
  2. Ralph Ellis, Greg Botelho and Ed Payne, "Charleston church shooter hears victim's kin say, 'I forgive you'," CNN, 2015-JUN-19, at:
  3. John McCarthy, "Charleston local paper comes under fire for running insensitive gun shop ad after shooting," The Drum, 2015-JUN-19, at:
  4. Tom Foreman, "Church shooting strikes at the heart of black culture," CNN, 2015-JUN-20, at:
  5. , and , "Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof 'wanted to ignite civil war'," The Guardian, 2015-JUN-19, at:
  6. "Dylann Roof and Michael Slager are jail neighbors, policeĀ confirm," Fox 43, 2015-JUN-19, at:

Site navigation: Home > Religious violence > Murders in churches > Charleston > here

Home page > Christianity > Christian history, beliefs... > Murders in churches > Charleston > here

Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2015-JUN-19
Last updated 2015-JUN-21
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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