As a shocked America mourned the killing of nine people in a historic black church, President Barack Obama said the US must eventually reckon with all too frequent mass shootings and gun violence.
“Now is a time for mourning and healing,” said the country’s first African-American President in a White House statement shortly after the capture of the white man who attacked the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina.
“But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. it doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency,” he said.
According to a CBS count, it was the 14th time that Obama was speaking after a mass shooting. It was another example, he said, of innocent people being killed because someone who “wanted to inflict harm” had “no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
“The fact this took place in a black church raises questions about a dark part of our history,” Obama said.
The suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, who joined a prayer meeting inside the church and spent nearly an hour there Wednesday night before killing six women and three men, including the pastor, was captured without resistance Thursday after an all-night manhunt.
According to a law enforcement source cited by CBS, an eyewitness told authorities that Roof stood up in the church and said he was there to shoot black people and then made some derogatory remarks.
During a court appearance Thursday afternoon in North Carolina, Roof waived extradition. He also waived his right to counsel, meaning he will either represent himself or hire his own lawyer.
Obama, who later flew to Los Angeles spoke to South Carolina’s Indian-American Governor Nikki Haley, and senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott from Air Force One and offered sincere condolences on behalf of himself and the First Lady
He also pledged to make available any federal resources that can support South Carolina in the aftermath of last night’s tragedy.
“We all woke up today and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken,” said an emotional Haley at a press conference announcing Roof’s arrest “And so we have some grieving to do, and we’ve got some pain we have to go through.
“Parents are having to explain to the their kids that they have to go to church and feel safe and that’s not something that we ever thought we’d would have to deal with,” she said.
“Having said that, we are a strong and faithful state,” Haley said. “We love our state, we love our county, and most importantly we love each other.”
Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said autopsies would be conducted over the next several days and did not have specific information on how many times the victims were shot or the locations of their injuries.
Roof had a criminal record. State court records show a pending felony drug case and a past misdemeanor trespassing charge. He also displayed the flags of defeated white-ruled regimes: a Confederate flag was on his license plate, according to an official.
A photo on his Facebook page shows him wearing a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa.
The shooting evoked painful memories of other attacks. Black churches were bombed in the 1960s when they served as organizing hubs for the civil rights movement and burned by arson across the South in the 1990s. Others survived shooting sprees.
Calling the events in South Carolina “heartbreaking and deeply tragic,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch also told reporters Thursday that the Justice Department is opening a hate crime investigation into the Charleston shooting.
Several presidential candidates have been in and out of South Carolina, an early-voting state recently.
Republican Jeb Bush cancelled his planned visit to Charleston Thursday.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, who was attending a fundraiser Wednesday at a home less than a mile from the church just hours before the shooting, called the news “heartbreaking.”