— -- The suspect in the Charleston church massacre that shook the nation planned to kill blacks with the goal of "fanning racial flames" around the country and as retribution for perceived slights against whites, according to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Dylann Roof, 21, is accused of killing nine black worshipers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, allegedly armed to the hilt with a .45 caliber handgun and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets.
“To carry out these twin goals of fanning racial flames and exacting revenge, Roof further decided to seek out and murder African Americans because of their race," Lynch said. "An essential element of his plan, however, was to find his victims inside of a church, specifically an African-American church, to ensure the greatest notoriety and attention to his actions.”
The 33-count indictment charges Roof with the nine murders and three attempted murders at the Charleston church under federal hate crime laws.
It also levels the identical charges against Roof under the civil rights provisions barring the obstruction of religious belief. In addition, Roof was charged with the illegal use of a firearm -– a Glock .45 caliber handgun -– in the commission of a crime.
The grand jury's action comes after an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
At a press conference today announcing the charges, Lynch said Roof planned to kill blacks in Church to spark racial animosity nationwide.
“As set forth in the indictment, several months prior to the tragic events of June 17, Roof conceived of his goal of increasing racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African Americans had committed against white people,” Lynch said.
Roof went to the church on the night of June 17 during a bible study, Lynch said.
“Dylann Roof found his targets, African Americans engaged in worship.” Lynch said. “The parishioners had bibles. Dylann Roof had his .45 caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets. And as set forth in the indictment, while the parishioners of Mother Emanuel were engaged in religious worship and bible study, Dylann Roof drew his pistol and opened fire on them, ultimately killing nine church members.”
Roof, who is white, also allegedly posted racist diatribes and pictures of himself holding a Confederate flag on an internet site.
The Charleston church murders sparked a national debate about the Confederate flag, and within a month of the shooting, the South Carolina legislature approved a measure to take down the Rebel flag that had flown on the state capitol grounds for more than 50 years. The controversy over the display of Confederate monuments, school names and symbols has continued in Congress, and around the country since the Church shooting.
Roof now faces up to life in prison or the death penalty as a result of the federal hate crime charges.
He was indicted earlier this month in Charleston on nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and a firearms charge in connection with the attack. Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty in the case.