CHARLESTON, S.C. – Dylann Roof wanted the world to know he hated black people and thought they were criminals. He thought about attacking drug dealers, but they might shoot back. So, he told the FBI, he picked a historic black church in Charleston he had learned about online.
In a videotaped confession shown Friday during his death penalty trial, Roof laughed several times and made exaggerated gun motions as he recounted the massacre. He explained that he wanted to leave at least one person alive to tell what happened and complained that his victims “complicated things” when they hid under tables.
Forty-five minutes into the interview, an FBI agent decided to tell him nine people died in the June 17, 2015, shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“There wasn’t even that many people in there,” Roof said incredulously. “Are you lying to me?”
The blurry video made it hard to see his face. After being told the details, an agent asked how he felt.
“Well, it makes me feel bad,” said Roof, who earlier in the confession estimated he might have killed five.
Roof’s lawyers have conceded that he carried out the attack and are concentrating on convincing jurors to spare his life in the second phase of the trial.
His confession came about 17 hours after the shooting. FBI agents drove to Shelby, North Carolina, where he was arrested with the gun used in the shooting in the backseat of his car. The plane that would take him back to Charleston was not going to arrive for a few hours. So FBI agent Michael Stansbury got permission to take a chance and interview him immediately.
It paid off almost instantly. After reading the suspect his rights and engaging in brief small talk, an agent asked Roof what he was doing on the night of the killings.
“I went to that church in Charleston and, uh, I did it,” he said.
The agents pressed Roof gently, asking him exactly what he did. He paused another 30 seconds or so.
“I killed them,” Roof said. As he talked more, he chuckled and said, “Well, I killed them, I guess.”
Roof said he wanted to kill black people because they rape white women daily. Agents asked why he chose Emanuel AME. He said online references listed it as the oldest black church in the South, and there probably would not be any white people there.
“I knew that would be a place to get a small amount of black people in one area,” Roof said, later adding, “They’re in church, they weren’t criminals or anything.”
Earlier testimony from survivor Felicia Sanders said Roof sat through the Bible study beside pastor Clementa Pinckney and opened fire as the rest of the group of 12 closed their eyes for a final prayer.
“I was sitting there thinking about whether I should do it or not. That’s why I sat there for 15 minutes. I could have walked out,” Roof said.
Church surveillance videos indicate Roof was actually inside for about 45 minutes.
Roof, as he has for much of the trial, hardly looked up as the confession played, mostly just shuffling papers in front of him at the defense table.
Roof meticulously prepared for the shootings. He carried eight magazines that could each hold 13 bullets. But he only loaded 11 bullets so he could shoot 88 times overall. Eighty-eight is a revered number among white supremacists, standing for Heil Hitler because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
In the confession, Roof said he left bullets in a magazine so that he could kill himself after the slayings but changed his mind when he didn’t see any police immediately after the shooting.
At one point, an agent asked if Roof thought about killing more blacks.
“Oh no. I was worn out,” Roof said.
Roof said the killing of Trayvon Martin was a turning point in his life. Martin, a young unarmed black man, was killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting. Roof said he started researching black crime against whites on the internet.
He told the agents he didn’t talk about his racist beliefs with his friends or family.
“They probably won’t agree with me – you know what I’m saying?”
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