[image-1]Dylann Roof paused and breathed in deeply as agents from the FBI began to question him on the afternoon after he opened fire inside Emanuel AME Church. Fleeing Charleston in his 2000 Hyundai Elantra, Roof was apprehended 250 miles away in Shelby, N.C. Roof sat quietly, looking out of the window of the patrol car, as he was driven to the police station. According to Matt Styers, a detective with the Shelby Police who testified Friday in Roof’s federal trial, there are no holding cells in the station. Roof was made to wait in the department’s interview room, a small formal library with no metal bars or two-way glass. An officer purchased Roof lunch at the nearest Burger King as he awaited questioning by investigators.
Michael Stansbury, a special agent with the FBI, wasn’t supposed to conduct Roof’s interview, but when he learned that other agents would be delayed, he decided to begin questioning. Joined by another agent, Stansbury began by casually asking Roof where he went to school and if he had a job. Video of their discussion was presented to the court Friday. A high school dropout, Roof said he was unemployed and the only job he’d ever had was landscaping. When asked about the shooting, Roof sheepishly answered, “I went to that church in Charleston and I, you know, I did it.”
Roof told the agents he wasn’t trying to hide his guilt, he simply “didn’t really like saying.” Then he laid bare what he had done and his reasons for carrying out such an act of violence.
“I killed them,” Roof said, before telling the agents that he had shot his victims.
“What kind of gun did you use,” Agent Stansbury asked.
Roof chuckled, “A Glock .45.”
At the time, Roof guessed that he had shot maybe five people the night before. Looking for a church where he could find only black victims, he had researched Emanuel AME. Roof had visited the church before the night of the shooting, but never entered.
“The reason I chose Charleston is, I like Charleston. It’s a historic city … It was a historic church,” he said.
Entering the church’s fellowship hall, Roof said he looked on quietly as his soon-to-be victims participated in Bible study. After sitting for what he estimated to be 15 minutes, Roof remained seated as he pulled his gun and fired the first shots.
“I just finally decided that I had to do it,” Roof said, his intentions based on the belief that the shooting would serve as some form of retribution for the violence that he perceived to be perpetrated on the white race by black men. Inspired by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Roof began to search statistics of black-on-white crime. According to Roof, he had become “racially aware” and was able to view everything through a racial lens. He hoped that his shooting would serve to agitate race relations to the point that white people would stand up for themselves. Roof thought he was trying to make a grand political point, but his reasons for choosing the church were based around selfishness.
“These people, they’re in church. They’re not criminals,” Roof told the agents as he acknowledged the innocence of his victims. But acting on his own, he said he was not in the position to “go into a black neighborhood and shoot drug dealers.” When asked if he remembered telling Polly Sheppard that he would leave her alive to tell other what had happened, Roof tossed his head back and laughed.
As Roof exited the church, he was surprised that he wasn’t immediately met by officers. He had kept one final clip of ammunition, not to shoot police, he said, but to kill himself. Driving northwest, Roof considered going to Nashville because he had never been there before. Not expecting to escape Charleston with his life, he had no plan, but knew that the police would catch up with him soon enough. By the time he was taken into custody, he had abandoned his plans of suicide. Asked by Agent Stansbury if he wanted to become a martyr, Roof said that would be nice, but didn’t expect that to happen.
As he had told agents earlier in the interview, “What I did was so minuscule to what black people are doing to white people every day.” At that time he was unaware of how many lives he had taken inside the church. When an agent told Roof that he had killed nine people, Roof didn’t believe him.
“There weren’t even nine people there,” he said, assuming he had killed five at the most.
Roof had few questions for the agents. He wondered if he would be going back to Charleston. He didn’t want to think about how his parents felt knowing what he had done. Asked what he would say to the families of his victims, Roof replied, “I couldn’t even look at them.” As the video of his confession played for the court and the family members of those who lost their lives at Mother Emanuel, Roof kept his eyes cast down.