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Nation & World

Authorities Arrest Suspect in South Carolina Church Shooting

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Police say they are now holding Dylann Roof. He is the 21-year-old white man suspected of killing nine people at an historically black church in Charleston, S.C. The people trying to understand this story include Robert Costa. He's a reporter for the Washington Post and is in Charleston. And we reached him to talk more about what he's seeing and hearing. Welcome to the program.

ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Let me begin by asking you what you know of this suspect, this alleged killer.

COSTA: Twenty-one years old, slender build, white male, interested in white supremacy. We've found social media and talked to some of his associates, people who have known him, and he seems like a very troubled young man.

MONTAGNE: Yes, there's a photograph that's being - that's out there now on him. And he seems to be wearing a band that says Rhodesia on his shirt, which would be Zimbabwe when it was still white-ruled.

COSTA: Yes, this is a common theme throughout the white supremacist movement, a reference to African nations or regions that were once controlled by whites, later taken over by majority-black governments. This is a source of frustration for this fringe movement.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Well, Robert, let me ask you about that because we're talking here about an attack on a church that is associated with civil rights and before that, with the drive for freedom from slavery in South Carolina. I know you've been talking with South Carolina officials about this. What is the governor saying? What are other officials saying?

COSTA: Well, I just spoke with Governor Haley. She was at the Embassy Suites across the street from the church, meeting with the families on the second floor of the hotel - a grim scene, tears, screams last night when I was there when they found out the news name by name. Then you had the pastors from the AME church, over 50 of them counseling the victims and their families. This is the heart of the faith community in this sleepy southern city, with its palm trees and its magnolias. This is somewhere where Martin Luther King once preached. As you said, Steve, this is a place for the underground railroad - it was part of that. And that heart of this community is fractured.

INSKEEP: I'm sure that authorities will be wanting to emphasize this doesn't reflect on all of South Carolina, and obviously it doesn't. But the perhaps sharper and more pertinent question here is whether it does reflect something broader that is going on in South Carolina right now.

COSTA: It's an active debate here on the streets of Charleston. The most poignant conversation I've had in my reporting is with the longtime mayor, Mayor Riley. Many of your listeners probably know he's been mayor of Charleston for nearly 40 years. And he's just been devastated by this. He was friends with many of the leaders of the church who were killed. And he just feels Charleston is better than this and now this is a stain on its modern history.

MONTAGNE: Robert, let me ask you a question about the pastor, the one of the victims that we actually know by name. His name is Clementa Pinckney. What do you know about him?

COSTA: Everyone always says the same thing. It's been a refrain, a tragic refrain, that this was a tall man, a big man with a deep baritone, but a very gentle way - got a fast start in state democratic politics, became a state lawmaker, was a community organizer and was always close to this church, this central church in the Charleston community, had maybe aspirations for a higher office, was a star and a humble man and just devastating for the people he knew, both in the political community who are gathered here and just in the town.

INSKEEP: OK, Robert Costa of The Washington Post, thanks very much for talking with us this morning.

COSTA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He is on the streets of Charleston, S.C., where authorities again have said that they now have a suspect in custody after last night's shooting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.