The 21-year-old white man who opened fire and killed nine black people during a prayer service at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been captured and taken into custody after one of the deadliest attacks on an American place of worship in years.
Police said on Thursday that 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof had been captured during a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, about 250 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina, where he is alleged to have carried out a mass shooting that left “a broken peace” at a moment of increased volatility over race and gun violence in America.
“Now is the time for mourning,” Barack Obama said at the White House. “But, let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reconcile the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”
The president said the massacre should “shift how we think about the issue of gun violence”, as this southern “holy city” once again found itself at the epicentre of international attention just weeks after a fatal police shooting in nearby North Charleston.
“We woke up today and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken,” South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said as she fought back tears at a press conference. “We allow ourselves to grieve, we allow ourselves to pray, we allow ourselves to question and then we allow ourselves to heal.”
Roof was stopped by Shelby police officers because a suspicious citizen reported the vehicle, Charleston police chief Greg Mullen said on Thursday at a press conference.
He was arrested and taken into custody at about 11.30am on Thursday, Mullen said, after he allegedly opened fire on Wednesday at an evening prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, after reportedly sitting through it for more than an hour.
Law enforcement officials said they had no reason to believe there were other assailants involved.
Among the dead were the church’s pastor, Clementa Pinckney – a Democrat in the South Carolina senate who had fought for gun-control legislation and body-camera – as well as his sister.
The youngest victim of the mass killing was identified as Tywanza Sanders, a 2014 graduate of the division of business administration at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, the school confirmed to the Guardian.
Other victims fatally wounded in the attack include Cynthia Hurd, a manager at the Charleston County Public Library and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a speech therapist and high school track coach.
Ethel Lance, and her cousin, Susie Jackson, both longtime members of the church, were identified by family members as victims of the attack, according to the local Post & Courier newspaper.
Mullen said previously that Roof sat among the congregation at Emanuel AME for nearly one hour before opening fire on the other attendants, killing six women and three men. Authorities said they did not yet know the motive for the attack, but the US justice department’s civil rights division, along with the FBI and the US attorney’s office, launched a formal inquiry into a potential hate crime.
Mullen also said there were three survivors of the attack, but refused to discuss reports that the gunman had allowed one woman to escape. “We want to make sure during our interview process we get real information from the suspect and not through something that has been posted online or through a story,” he said.
Riley, the mayor, said at an earlier news conference that the community in Charleston was one that “honours our religious institutions and respects the different cultures and beliefs”. He referred to the town as “the holy city”, one where “all the church spires reach out into the sky, including Emanuel AME church where this horrific crime occurred”.