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In Taped Confession, Charleston Church Shooter Says 'We All Know I Am Guilty'

The parking lot behind the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, S.C. in June 2015.
Stephen B. Morton

The man accused of murdering nine people in a church basement in Charleston, S.C., last year told investigators he is guilty, according to a confession video played in court on Friday.

The jury in the trial of Dylan Roof, 22, watched an excerpt of a nearly two-hour conversation between Roof and investigators from the FBI, recorded shortly after he was taken into custody.

Roof faces 33 federal hate crimes charges. The federal government is seeking the death penalty.

Roof is accused of entering Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church during a Wednesday evening bible study last summer. He sat among worshippers before taking out a gun and opening fire.

In the video confession, Roof said, "I did it. I killed them," and said he used a Glock 45-caliber handgun, according to tweets by Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio, who was in the courtroom.

"I was sitting there thinking about whether I should do it or not," Roof told investigators, referring to the time he spent with the people studying the Bible before he murdered them. "That's why I was sitting there for 15 minutes."

At one point in the video, Roof laughed and said, "I am guilty. We all know I'm guilty."

The Associated Press reported that Roof told investigators he thought he might have killed five people, and that 45 minutes into the interview, "an FBI agent decided to tell [Roof] nine people died in the ... shootings.

According to the AP, Roof responded incredulously, "There wasn't even that many people in there. Are you lying to me?"

After learning more about those he killed and wounded, one of the interviewers asked how Roof felt.

"Well, it makes me feel bad," he said.

Roof also discussed his motives for murdering nine black people at the historically black church, reported Olgin. "We already are the second-class citizens" Roof said, referring to white people. "That's the problem."

As The Two-Way has reported:

"The federal hate-crime charges against Roof 'center on both the victims' race and their identity as churchgoers who were attempting to follow their religious beliefs when Roof attacked.' At the time, [Attorney General Loretta Lynch] called hate crimes 'the original domestic terrorism.'


"The Justice Department says he selected the [ Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church] and his victims to win notoriety and to try to ignite a race war."

On Wednesday, survivor Felicia Sanders testified that Roof began shooting during the group's closing prayer, reported NPR's Debbie Elliott. Sanders told the jury her son, Tywanza, asked Roof why he was shooting them, and that Roof responded, "Y'all raping our women, and y'all are taking over the world."

Tywanza Sanders was among those who died in the shooting.

Debbie reported:

"[On Thursday] the judge rejected a defense motion for a mistrial based on [Sanders'] testimony that Roof was evil and belonged in 'the pit of hell.' The mistrial motion said Roof's mother suffered a heart attack after being in the courtroom for the emotional testimony yesterday. She collapsed sitting on the wooden pew behind her son.

"Throughout the proceedings, Roof has stared straight ahead, expressionless, not watching witnesses or lawyers."

Roof's defense lawyer, David Bruck, did not dispute that his client committed the heinous crimes but asked the jury to consider why the 22-year-old white man was so motivated by racial hatred.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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