A joint state and federal investigation into the activities of accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof has widened to include other persons of interest, according to multiple sources familiar with the ongoing investigation.
The expanded scope of the investigation now includes people with whom Roof associated in the weeks before the June 17 shootings of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the sources said. Roof, 21, of Columbia, is white.
Although it appears Roof traveled alone to and from Charleston on the day of the killings, it is possible others had some knowledge of what he planned to carry out, said the sources, who are not being identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Investigators began to explore how much Roof’s associates knew, and when they knew it, after reviewing his cellphone and computer records, the sources said.
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Prosecutors are still studying exactly what charges, if any, some of those associates might face, the sources said.
The New York Times Friday, citing sources with knowledge of the investigation, also said federal and state authorities have found Roof had been in contact with white supremacists online, though it does not appear they encouraged him to carry out the massacre.
The Times report did not identify who those people were.
Asked about the Roof case, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said Thursday, “As the Attorney General (Loretta Lynch) said, ‘We have opened a file on this and are continuing to investigate this tragedy.’” He declined to elaborate.
One possible charge could be misprision of a felony, which means a person had knowledge of a crime to be carried out and did not inform law enforcement. Other charges might be lying to a federal law enforcement officer.
Apart from announcing Roof’s arrest and making public the nine state murder charges and one weapons charge against him, state and federal officials have made public relatively little about the case.
Those other public notices and events have included a notice filed in federal court that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was officially involved in the case and naming the prosecutors. That notice also named two defense attorneys appointed to the case.
The U.S. Justice Department in Washington also announced it was looking at possible hate crime charges.
A bond hearing was held in Charleston June 19. At that time, a magistrate set Roof’s bond at $1 million on the weapons charge. A circuit judge must set bond on the murder charges for Roof, who is still being held in the county jail.
On the night of June 17, a white man entered a prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, prayed with a Bible study group, and then used a .45-caliber handgun to kill nine parishioners – six women and two men. Among the dead was Emanuel’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
Roof was arrested a short time later and charged. Authorities say he confessed to the killings to law enforcement officials.
According to Roof’s Internet postings before the shooting, he wanted to start a race war between blacks and whites. Photos of Roof on his Internet site, the Last Rhodesian, show him with a Confederate flag, spitting on an American flag and holding a .45-caliber handgun.
In the days since the killings, there have been calls by many, including Gov. Nikki Haley, to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
Rallies on both sides of the flag issue have been held in recent days, and others are planned this weekend and Monday at the State House.
The S.C. House and Senate next week will consider passing a law to remove the flag. A recent survey of legislators showed there is enough support to do it, if all supporters cast a vote.