Return to Transcripts main page


Latest on South Carolina Church Massacre; DOJ Investigating Shooting as Hate Crime. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 18, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A place of peace, its pews running red with blood.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, a massacre at a historic black church. Nine people praying, their Bibles and their hearts opened, and they have their lives slammed shut by a racist maniac, who was caught just hours ago in a different state.

The shooter. Police say Dylann Roof waited to nearly an hour, worshiping with his eventual victims before defiling this house of God. Now that he's been caught, what will investigators uncover about what drove him to slaughter so many innocents, and whether he acted entirely alone?

Plus, the victims, among the departed, a college grad determined to make his mark, a local library manager, and the church's pastor, Clementa Pinckney, Clem to everyone in the community who knew him and loved him. Their lives and their legacies and who they leave behind.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Mother Emanuel, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal AME Church in the South, is in mourning today, its congregants, citizens in Charleston, lawmakers in the nation's capital holding vigils, President Obama delivering a statement on the shooting, saying he's had to do this too many times, by our count, at least 14 times, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Fort Hood, the Navy Yard, Binghamton, on and on, and now of course Charleston.

Today, all of us really are reeling, trying to understand how and why a house of worship was transformed into a house of unspeakable tragedy. Today, especially with Father's Day approaching this weekend, the focus is on the families missing their loved ones, the nine killed.

Emergency room doctors say they knew it was going to be horrible. But then when the minutes kept by and they kept waiting for victims to come in, waiting for victims to treat, and only one of them made it to the hospital, only one of them was treatable.

All of the victims have now been identified, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Sharonda Singleton, Ethel Lance, Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., Susie Jackson, Reverend Depayne Middleton, and of course the church's pastor, State Senator Clem Pinckney.

His desk in the Statehouse now draped in black, a vase of flowers, baby's breath, and a single red rose.

CNN is on the ground in Charleston, while we're working the angles in Washington, D.C., as well. Martin Savidge, John Berman, Rene Marsh, Evan Perez, Tom Foreman, Alina Machado all chasing down leads to bring you all the latest on the massacre and the investigation.

Let's start half a block away from the church. That's where we find our own Martin Savidge.

Marty, family members, some of the victim now giving us an idea of how truly awful last night's shooting was.


And you know, this is a community that is -- the overriding emotion is grief. People are in absolute shock, but, for law enforcement, there's also relief, because they were greatly fearing that any person who could go into a house of God and murder people could do just about anything. They were afraid for what might come next.

But that was stopped, thanks to a husband and wife in North Carolina, who saw something wrong.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof is in custody, caught in North Carolina, armed with a gun.

JOE RILEY, MAYOR OF CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: A terrible human being who would go into a place of worship when people were praying and kill them is now in custody.

SAVIDGE: It's not known if the gun found is the murder weapon, but Roof is suspected of killing nine people inside the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, founded in 1816.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We woke up today and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.

SAVIDGE: Just after 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night, Roof entered the church. He was invited to join a Bible study group.

SYLVIA JOHNSON, RELATIVE OF VICTIM: He sat next to my cousin, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, for -- throughout the entire Bible study.

At the conclusion of the Bible study, from what I understand, they just started hearing loud noises just ringing out.

SAVIDGE: Witnesses told police that around 9:00 p.m., Roof stood up and said that he was there to shoot black people. He allegedly then took out his handgun and opened fire, killing nine. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you please send out an EMS command page

advising of an active shooter, multiple people down?


SAVIDGE: First-responders rushed to the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Several victims regarding that active shooter. Give me at least four medic units, three supervisors on that call, please.

SAVIDGE: Three people survived the shooting. The local NAACP president was told by a family said that one survivor received a chilling message from the shooter, who told her -- quote -- "I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to spare you, so you can tell them what happened."

Tonight, authorities are looking into Roof's background and if he had help in orchestrating what is being investigated as a hate crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will do search warrants. We will do interviews. We will go back and try to put together why this might have happened.

SAVIDGE: Tonight, vigils are going to be held across the country, as families in South Carolina grieve.


SAVIDGE: There's no real answer as to when that suspect will be brought back here to Charleston. There will probably be some kind of extradition.

And when you ask law enforcement, do we have any idea, any greater idea as to why he did what he did, they say they don't know. This person is truly a mystery, and has led to a tremendous heartbreak in this community and all of this state -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Martin Savidge, thank you so much.

Let's go now to John Berman.

John, the manhunt was thankfully fairly quick. Maybe 15 hours passed between the shooting and the suspect's arrest. Walk us through how police caught him.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the shooting took place around 9:00, just after 9:00 behind me at the Mother Emanuel Church.

Of course, the suspect had been in there for an hour already before he opened fire and then he fled. The streets here were shut down. So many blocks were closed down. There were helicopters overhead on the hunt. They did not find him in this immediate area.

They had pictures, though, very quickly. Hours later, somewhere between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m., we saw our first photos of the suspect, Dylann Roof, taken as he entered the church, and what was crucial, also photos of his car, a black Hyundai. They were able to trace the plates on that car, and then they discovered his name.

So they had his name, they had his picture, and they had his car. And it was several hours later in the morning, as you say, 14 to 15 hours after he left this church, that he turned up in Shelby, North Carolina. That's about a four-hour drive from where we are right now.

In Shelby, North Carolina, Martin Savidge told you there was a tip from people who said that car looked suspicious. An officer saw him at a traffic stop, interacted with him, and arrested him without incident. He did have a gun in the vehicle. We do not know for sure whether it was the gun used in the shooting or allegedly used in the shooting by the suspect, but he is now in custody in North Carolina.

There are issues about whether or not he will waive his fight for extradition, but sooner or later, he will end up back here in South Carolina and face charges. But, you know, Jake, it is so fascinating. You have covered a number of incidents like these.

So often, the suspect dies or kills himself on the spot, or so often he is killed by law enforcement. This man, this suspect, he ran, but he was caught very quickly -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, apparently, he surrendered. And that's one of the reasons he was taken alive. He was -- he peacefully surrendered.

John Berman on the ground in Charleston, you will be with us throughout the hour. Thank you so much.

Let's go now to Rene Marsh.

As we said, law enforcement taking a thorough look into the past of the alleged's perpetrator, including whether or not he had any links to white supremacists or domestic terror groups.

Rene, we have heard the comments that he has said to have made to parishioners as to why he was doing what he was doing, the horrific act. He was wearing patches in his Facebook page of racist apartheid states, South Africa and Rhodesia. What do we know about him for sure?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we know this man had brushes with the law before. He was transient in high school, so much so he had to repeat the ninth grade.

We also know that Dylann Roof told the victims he was there to kill black people, but investigators are still working to get a fuller picture about what pushed him to commit such a heartless crime.


MARSH (voice-over): The cold-blooded trigger man captured on surveillance camera as he entered Emanuel AME Church, a young white man, 5'9'', slender, clean-shaven, with sandy blond hair, his getaway car a black Hyundai. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He loaded -- reloaded five different times.

MARSH: The mass murderer soon identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof.

What the shooter said before firing shots leads police to believe he killed the victims because they were black.

RICHARD SCHWEIN, FORMER FBI AGENT: The fact that he knew the time and place that those folks would be gathered, he was able to effectively gain access to the church, and then he sat there for a while.


MARSH: Roof sat in Bible study with church members for an hour before opening fire.

He spared at least one woman's life, he said -- quote -- "So you can tell them what happened."

SCHWEIN: There were some premeditation, some pre-planning clearly on his part. There were a lot of reasons why he may have delayed his activities. He could have been enjoying the moment. He could have been waiting for the right opportunity.

MARSH: The FBI is now investigating whether he's affiliated with any hate groups. His social media profile shows a stone-faced Roof outfitted in a jacket bearing two flags of apartheid era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia.

SCHWEIN: This is obviously a young man who is angry, who's disenfranchised with the great society that we live in.

MARSH: Police records show Roof has been arrested twice in South Carolina before, spending time behind bars this year for a drug charge. The police report says Roof was in possession of a narcotic used to stop opioid addiction. He was also arrested and charged for trespassing.

When police caught Roof Thursday, he was armed, but it's unclear if it was the same .45-caliber gun sources say his father recently bought him for his 21st birthday this April.


MARSH: Well, from police reports, we have learned Roof was banned from a South Carolina mall twice, first after displaying bizarre behavior and possession of narcotics.

He was banned for a year. When he returned to that mall in April, he was arrested for trespassing. Now, the narcotic found on him is used to treat addictions like heroin. Right now, we know that investigators there are taking a hard look at potential ties to domestic terrorist organizations, white supremacist groups and other extremists to determine if that at all had anything to do with his motive -- Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Police calling this massacre a hate crime after the alleged shooter is said to have told his victims that he was there to -- quote -- "shoot black people."

Law enforcement right now, as Rene said, digging into this 21-year- old's history for any warning signs -- what they are learning, that's next.


[16:16:33] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

You're looking at a live image from Charleston, South Carolina, of Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street in Charleston.

The suspect in the shooting there is in custody. Authorities are looking for any links he may have had to white supremacists or other hate groups.

Today, the new U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said this about the investigation.


LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is a crime that has reached into the heart of that community. The Department of Justice has opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting incident.


TAPPER: So, what does that mean?

Our justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now from Washington.

Evan, what's the latest on this investigation, and what is the significance of looking into whether or not this falls under a hate crime categorization?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, you know, it's important for this attorney general -- she's a child of the South. She grew up in North Carolina, and midway through that press conference, the FBI director, Jim Comey, handed her a note, saying that they had captured the suspect.

The reason for this hate crime investigation at this point is simply because of the statements that the witnesses told investigators, that this suspect Dylann Roof made to those survivors, that he was there to shoot black people, and that immediately launches the federal jurisdiction, which protects protected groups, such as African- Americans and others that have historically the victims of discrimination in this country, Jake.

TAPPER: You know, it's interesting, Evan, you and I have talked about this. The FBI compiles statistics from crime reports across the country, and as you know, the FBI found that in 2013, law enforcement agencies reported that of more that 3,000 single bias racially motivated hate crimes, more that are 60 percent were motivated by anti-black or anti-American bias. That's more than half.

We in the news media, we focus a lot on jihadi terrorism, ISIS, for example, but some experts say that the bigger threat here at home in terms of violence comes from these anti-government racist hate groups.

PEREZ: That's exactly what we heard from law enforcement groups. Look, the ISIS threat is definitely something that's a bigger problem for the big cities, that's where ISIS is more likely to launch an attack, according to law enforcement. But definitely more likely in smaller places around the country, you're more likely to run into domestic terrorism. That is something that the Department of Homeland Security warned about, in a report earlier this year, it got a lot controversy, but it's definitely something that's on the mind of law enforcement around the country.

TAPPER: Evan Perez in Washington, D.C. for us, thank you so much.

The Charleston police chief was visibly relieved earlier today when he got to announce the arrest of the alleged shooter, just hours after releasing his photograph.

Let's get right to the Charleston Sheriff Al Cannon.

Sheriff, thanks for being with us. We know it must be busy, and obviously, I'm sorry that we're speaking under these circumstances. How were you able to identify the suspect so quickly?

SHERIFF AL CANNON, CHARLESTON COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think it was a combination of the law enforcement technology that spreads the world amongst law enforcement agencies. But as I understand, it also the results of citizens who had been monitoring the situation, and had information about seeing the vehicle reported at the law enforcement, and then sometime later, they were able to locate the car and make the traffic stop, at which point they took him into custody.

[16:20:02] TAPPER: We've heard anecdotally about his racist motivations from somebody who heard it from a survivor of the attack. We've heard from one of his classmates that he was a racist and expressed racist feelings in high school.

Do you know of any connections that the alleged shooter had to any white supremacy groups?

CANNON: I'm not aware of any, Jake. That certainly is going to be a focal point of particularly the federal part of the investigation.

Actually I just got back from D.C. myself. I was with Evan the night before last, had dinner with him, as he was speaking to the FBI National Executive Institute.

But that's something that's yet to be determined. Certainly there are indicators of that. I think the picture that has him wearing Rhodesian and South African flags has been well-publicized, and that's certainly an indicator of that sort of mind-set. But as far as any specific connection, that has not been established so far as I know.

TAPPER: Apartheid, South Africa, if I'm right.

CANNON: Right.

TAPPER: Sir, what can you tell us about the weapon used? Was it just one gun?

CANNON: Well, I'm not going into that kind of de tail. That's for others to release that sort of information.

Let me address the nature. You spoke about, you know, liking Charleston and we're here under these circumstances. Charleston is a unique place, and this community is coming together as an extension of the Mother Emanuel Congregation, the victims. I have employees who attend that church.

Senator Pinckney is an acquaintance of mine. I actually tried to call him last night to -- the vigil today and other things that will be planned I think will demonstrate the unit this community has, and the coming together to help these families in their grieving and mourning, and then at the appropriate time, begin the healing process, but that's going to take a long time. We're not anywhere near there yet.

TAPPER: We'll be talking a lot more in the show about the community, about the AME church, and about the victim.

Sheriff Al Cannon, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Nine lives cut tragically short, a preacher and state senator was the father of two young children, a library worker who is said to have dedicated her life to improving the lives of others. We'll learn about the victims, next.

Plus, this church nearly 200 years old holds so much history within its walls, from hiding runaway slaves, to the preachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so much more as well. That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

They were 12 lives. They had gathered to study the word of God at Emanuel AME Church, as you see right there, live from Charleston, South Carolina, a historic black church on Calhoun Street. According to police, they opened their doors, they opened their bibles, they opened their hearts to a young man with evil in his heart, and a gun in his bag.

And now, people around the world are praying for answers into the deaths of nine victims. Three others who were inside the church lived through the horrifying ordeal.

Alina Machado joins me now from Charleston.

Alina, what are you learning about these people, these victims and their stories?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there is a deep sense of loss in this community, especially about -- among the people who know -- who knew these victims. The youngest victim was 41 years old, the oldest was 87. They had very different backgrounds, but they were all united in their faith.


MACHADO (voice-over): Today in Charleston, hymns and organ music echo over a faithful city left in a state of disbelief.

Nine worshippers were killed in cold blood as they prayed together last night, murdered, police say, just for being black.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in my fourth year of pastoring here at the church.

MACHADO: Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who also served as a state senator, was silent along with six women and two other men at this historic black church.

Survivors relayed horrifying details to Pinckney's family. His cousin told affiliate WIS the killer was intent on his target.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He asked for the pastor, where is the pastor? He sat next to my cousin, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, throughout the entire bible study.

MACHADO: Witnesses say the pastor was preaching when he was shot.

Today, the Senate session in Charleston began with a somber remembrance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We seek this morning to gather and honor one of our own, one whom we love with all of our hearts.

MACHADO: Pinckney's empty desk in the state capitol decorated in his honor. The 41-year-old father of two had been serving in South Carolina's legislature for nearly two decades.

GREG MULLEN, CHARLESTON, SC POLICE CHIEF: Just a sweet-loving man, a dedicated public servant to his community, and also dedicated servant to his faith and his congregation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we could bow our heads for a word of prayer.

MACHADO: Among those Pinckney led in prayer and joined in death was Myra Thompson, the wife of one of the church's bishops.