Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

Charleston Shooting Suspect Roof Could Face Death Penalty Over Federal Charges

Dylann Roof, seen here at a recent court hearing in Charleston, S.C., will face federal hate crime charges over a mass shooting that police say he carried out at a black church.
Grace Beahm
Dylann Roof, seen here at a recent court hearing in Charleston, S.C., will face federal hate crime charges over a mass shooting that police say he carried out at a black church.

Dylann Roof, who police say carried out a ruthless attack that killed nine black worshippers in a Charleston, S.C., church, is now facing federal hate crime charges along with more than a dozen other serious charges he's already accused of.

"Hate crimes are the original domestic terrorism," Attorney General Loretta Lynch says.

The 33 counts center on both the victims' race and their identity as church-goers who were attempting to follow their religious beliefs when Roof attacked.

The indictment also says Roof created a website, thelastrhodesian, where he posted a racist manuscript and photographs of him "wearing a jacket with flags of two former apartheid African nations, displaying his Glock .45 caliber pistol, and holding a confederate flag."

Update at 3:30 p.m. ET: Terrorism vs. Hate Crime

When pressed about the characterization of some egregious crimes — but not this one — as terrorism, Lynch responds that racially motivated violence "is of grave importance to the federal government." She reiterates that the Charleston case isn't of lesser significance than, for instance, the recent shootings in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Update at 3:20 p.m. ET: Attorney General Lays Out Charges

A federal grand jury in South Carolina has handed down a 33-count indictment that levels hate crimes and firearms charges against Roof, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch accusing Roof of targeting his victims "because of their race, and to interfere with the exercise of their religion."

Announcing the charges Wednesday afternoon, Lynch says that Roof had two goals in mind when he embarked on his plan: "fanning racial flames and seeking revenge" against black people.

She says the charges carries penalties "up to life imprisonment or the death penalty."

Lynch adds that no decision has yet been made over whether to seek the death penalty in Roof's case.

Update at 2:30 p.m. ET: 33 Counts; Death Penalty At Stake

The federal indictment runs about 15 pages and includes 33 counts, a source in U.S. law enforcement tells NPR's Carrie Johnson. At least one charge brings the risk of the death-penalty.

Our original post continues:

Roof already faces nine counts of murder, along with attempted murder and weapons charges. His trial on those charges is set to begin next summer.

News of the hate-crime indictment comes a month after photos and a racist manifesto were found on a website that appears to have been set up by Roof, the 21-year-old who was arrested the day after the mass shooting at Charleston's Emanuel A.M.E. Church.

Reporting on the pending indictment today, the Charleston Post and Courier notes, "South Carolina is one of only five states that does not have a hate crimes law, despite some legislators' repeated attempts to change that."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.