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Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Indicted on Federal Hate Crime Charges

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the charges against the 21-year-old for the racially-motivated shooting of nine black churchgoers.

by VICE News
Jul 22 2015, 7:50pm

Photo by Grace Beahm/AP

A grand jury Wednesday returned a 33-count indictment against 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof on federal hate crime and religious obstruction charges for the deadly, racially motivated shooting of nine black churchgoers at Charleston, South Carolina's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the charges at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

"Roof conceived his goal of increasing racial tensions and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs that he believed African-Americans have committed against white people," she said. "To carry out these twin goals of fanning racial flames and exacting revenge, Roof further decided to seek out and murder African-Americans because of their race."

Roof, who had previously told friends he planned to attack the church to "start a race war," had earlier this month been indicted by a Charleston County grand jury on nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and a firearms charge.

South Carolina is among a handful of states that does not have a hate crimes statute of its own, Lynch said.

According to the FBI, a hate crime is defined as any illegal act "motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." They are usually prosecuted in tandem with other serious charges. State and federal prosecutors will work together in the case, Lynch said.

No decision has been made by state prosecutors on whether to seek the death penalty, Lynch added. One of the federal charges being brought against Roof -- obstruction of persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs, resulting in death -- does carry the death penalty.

Related: Judge Sets South Carolina Shooting Suspect's Bond at $1M for Weapons Charge

Roof is currently being held on $1 million bond and his murder trial will begin next summer. The shooting sparked a national conversation on race and led to the recent vote by South Carolina's legislature to bring down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol lawns.

Roof had posted on social media several photos of himself posing next to Confederate flags or symbols historically linked to slavery and white supremacy in the US.

According to various reports, Roof entered the historic black church and sat in Bible class for an hour before he opened fire.

Witnesses later told police that the shooter had yelled racist and hate-filled speech at the congregants before pulling out his .45-caliber Glock pistol and opening fire on the victims, which included the church's pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a state senator.

"You rape our women and you're taking over our country, and you have to go," Roof is alleged to have yelled shortly before the rampage, according to one survivor.

Roof also reportedly posted a manifesto online that did not specifically mention the shooting, but said that action needed to be taken where white supremacy groups were only "talking on the Internet."

"I have no choice," the manifesto reads. "I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."

Related: South Carolina Governor Signs Off on Bill to Remove Confederate Flag

Roof was captured the morning after the shooting in Shelby, North Carolina, and taken into custody. He reportedly told investigators he had a momentary change of heart and very nearly backed out of his plan to carry out the crime.

In addition to Pinckney, the victims have been identified by Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton 45; Myra Thompson, 59.

Three others survived the massacre.

At a memorial service for Pinckney on June 26, President Barack Obama said that Roof's violence was "an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress.

"[It was] an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.