Accused mass murderer Dylann Storm Roof is a child of disparate Columbia-area families who expressed deep sorrow Friday about the Charleston church massacre that left a nation wondering how anyone could commit such a crime.
In a statement, the family said “words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. We offer our prayers, (and) sympathy for all of those impacted by these events.”
The statement, released through a local public defender, offered condolences to the family members of the victims of Wednesday night’s shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. The statement said the Roof family was “touched” by relatives of the dead, who said in court Friday that they forgave Roof for the alleged murders.
Roof’s family did not attempt to explain how the 21-year-old Columbia-area man became so distraught that he attended a prayer meeting, only to disrupt the session with a fusillade of bullets. Nine people died, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church’s pastor.
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But accounts of Roof show that his mood had darkened from that of a shy youngster at Rosewood Elementary School in 2004 to an angry man with racist views and an arrest record more than a decade later.
The State newspaper learned Friday that authorities have located a target shooting spot in the Columbia area where the suspect fired guns to practice his aim. No further details were available, but the investigation is continuing.
News reports say that Roof confessed to the racially motivated killings Thursday soon after being captured in North Carolina.
Roof, who lived in different parts of the Columbia area, at one point shared a home in downtown’s Rosewood neighborhood with his mom, who was divorced.
During their time in Rosewood, Roof’s mother reunited with a childhood friend, Linda Brown, who also had a son. Dylann Roof and Brown’s son, Caleb, went to the same school and became friends. They often would stay with Roof’s mother after the school day ended.
Roof’s mother was always kind to Caleb Brown, who is of mixed race, Linda Brown said.
“Although I have not seen them in several years, I can only imagine the pain and the heartache that this monstrous act has caused a woman I knew to be a kind and devoted mother,” Brown told The State newspaper. “As a parent, my heart goes out to her. As her friend, I want others to be able to know that whatever Dylann became as a teenager that led him to do this monstrous, heinous act, it was not nurtured by his mother.
“Mostly, my heart goes out to those who have lost their lives and their family members.”
Details about Roof’s life continued to be elusive, although it’s known he was arrested in February on drug charges.
Roof, who The New York Times said had worked at one point as a landscaper, is the grandson of a Columbia lawyer known for his generosity.
Joseph Roof, a long-time real estate lawyer, is a pillar of the community in Richland County, said attorney Cal Watson, past president of the South Carolina Bar. In addition to his community involvement, Joseph Roof also has been involved in the state and local bar associations.
“He’s the real deal,” Watson said. “He has an outstanding reputation and is an excellent lawyer.”
Roof’s neatly kept home, in the Earlewood neighborhood of Columbia, was surrounded Friday by parked cars, but no one answered the door. Columbia police officers patrolling the area said the family did not wish to have reporters on their property or contacting them. Phone messages went unreturned.
Dylann Roof’s father, Ben, also has been unavailable, and relatives on his mother’s side of the family refused comment. Roof also has an older sister who was to have been married recently. Her fiance lives near Shelby, N.C., where Roof was arrested.