The man accused of gunning down nine black worshippers at a US church was ordered to remain in custody on murder charges Friday, as authorities said they were investigating the killings as possible “domestic terrorism.”
The carnage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday night was the worst attack on a US place of worship in decades and comes at a time of revived racial tensions in many parts of the country.
Suspected supremacist Dylann Roof, 21, who reportedly had said that he “wanted to start a race war,” was charged with nine murders, in what police are treating as a hate crime.
A detective confirmed Roof had two previous run-ins with the law for trespassing and a pending drugs possession charge.
Several media outlets reported that Roof confessed to investigators that he walked into “Mother Emanuel” – one of the oldest black churches in the country – and opened fire on a Bible study class.
His arrest warrant revealed how he allegedly shot the six women and three men multiple times with a high-caliber handgun then stood over a survivor to make a “racially inflammatory” statement.
A spokeswoman for the US Justice Department, Emily Pierce, said authorities were looking at the killings “from all angles.”
“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,” Pierce said.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said she believed Roof should face the death penalty if convicted.
“This is an absolute hate crime,” Haley told NBC’s “Today” show.
“We will absolutely want him to have the death penalty. This is the worst hate that I’ve seen and the country has seen in a long time.”
Roof’s family, in their first public reaction to the killings, offered condolences to the dead and spoke of their “shock, grief and disbelief.”
US President Barack Obama said that America was “shocked and heartbroken,” but voiced confidence that its permissive gun laws would eventually change. He accused Congress of failing to act after a mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 which killed 26 people, including 20 children.