WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch released the following statement after the federal grand jury released its indictment against Dylann Storm Roof in the deadly church shooting that took place June 17th in Charleston, South Carolina.:
Good afternoon and thank you for coming.
I am joined here today by Vanita Gupta, the head of the department’s Civil Rights Division and Mark Giuliano, Deputy Director of the FBI.
We are here today to announce that a federal grand jury in South Carolina has returned a 33-count indictment against Dylann Storm Roof, charging him with federal hate crimes and firearms charges for killing and attempting to kill African-American parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, because of their race and in order to interfere with their exercise of their religion.
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.
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. 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.
As alleged, Roof set forth the evening of June 17, 2015 to carry out this plan and drove to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, known as ‘Mother Emanuel’. Mother Emanuel was his destination specifically because it was a historically African-American church of significance to the people of Charleston, of South Carolina and the nation.
On that summer evening, Dylann Roof found his targets, African Americans engaged in worship. Met with welcome by the ministers of the church and its parishioners, he joined them in their bible study group. 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.
As you know, the state of South Carolina is also prosecuting Roof for the murders, attempted murders and firearms offenses he is alleged to have committed. We commend the state authorities for their tremendous work and quick response. It is important to note, however, that South Carolina does not have a hate crimes statute and as a result, the state charges do not reflect the alleged hate crime offenses presented in the federal indictment returned today.
The federal indictment returned today charges Roof with nine murders and three attempted murders under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This federal hate crimes law prohibits using a dangerous weapon to cause bodily injury, or attempting to do so, on the basis of race or color. The Shepard Byrd Act was enacted specifically to vindicate the unique harms caused by racially motivated violence.
Roof is also charged with nine murders and three attempted murders under a second federal hate crimes statute that prohibits the use or threat of force to obstruct any person’s free exercise of their religious beliefs.
Finally, Roof has been charged with multiple counts of using a firearm in the commission of these racially motivated murders and attempted murders.
For these crimes, Roof faces penalties of up to life imprisonment or the death penalty. No decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty in this case. The department will follow our usual rigorous protocol to thoroughly consider all factual and legal issues relevant to that decision, which will necessarily involve counsel for the defendant Roof. In addition, consultation with the victims’ families is an important part of this decision making process and no decision will be made before conferring with them.
The family members of those killed at Emanuel AME and the survivors were informed of these federal charges earlier today.
I also note that this indictment contains allegations and is not evidence of the defendant’s guilt.
This federal grand jury indictment follows an announcement I made on June 18, 2015, that the Department of Justice was conducting a hate crime investigation into the shooting incident at Emanuel AME. Immediately following the shooting, experienced prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina and the Civil Rights Division began working closely with the FBI, ATF and state and local law enforcement officials including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division – or SLED – Charleston Police and the Solicitor’s Office for the Ninth Circuit of South Carolina, in thoroughly investigating these crimes. I would like to the many state and federal law enforcement officials for their dedication and hard work to ensure that this investigation was conducted thoroughly and expeditiously. I would also like to thank South Carolina U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles for his and his office’s tremendous efforts on this case, as well as the dedicated attorneys from the Civil Rights Division.
In particular, I would like to thank Charleston Solicitor Scarlett Wilson for being such a cooperative and effective partner in this matter. We have a strong working relationship with Solicitor Wilson and her office and we look forward to our continued collaboration as these parallel state and federal prosecutions work their way through their respective court systems.