Crime & Courts

EXCLUSIVE: Was accused SC racial church killer Roof planning bigger death spree?

One of the images from a website purported to belong to Dylann Roof that also contained his alleged manifesto.
One of the images from a website purported to belong to Dylann Roof that also contained his alleged manifesto. THELAST RHODESIAN.COM

Was accused mass killer Dylann Roof thinking of an even bigger killing field than a prayer meeting at a Charleston church?

That’s what some say when asked about a report from the Columbia police department about assault weapon parts found in his car March 13, less than two weeks after Roof was arrested on drug charges and three months before nine African-Americans were gunned down at the Charleston Emmanuel AME church.

A Columbia police officer reported March 13 that he found part of an AR-15 assault rifle and six 40-bullet banana-style ammo clips in Roof’s car during a routine encounter in a downtown Columbia park. Roof told the officer he wanted to buy an AR-15.

“That’s scary. We ought to be thankful he never got his hands an AR-15,” said former U.S. Attorney and State Law Enforcement Division director Reggie Lloyd, now an attorney in private practice.

An AR-15 is the semi-automatic civilian version of the U.S. military’s M16 fully automatic assault rifle.

Such a weapon, loaded with a 40-bullet ammo clip, could allow someone to shoot several dozen people without reloading and from a greater distance than the .45 Glock handgun Roof is accused of using in the June 17 church killings.

Assault rifles are designed to inflict maximum damage on a maximum number of people in a brief time. The AR-15 is known for its high-velocity rounds that spin upon entering a human body, wreaking havoc in muscle and tissue.

“Roof wanted even more ability to kill than he had,” said Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, a longtime member of the S.C. House. “This suggests to me that if he had had access to a more powerful weapon, he would have killed a lot more people.”

State NAACP president Lonnie Randolph agreed. “This is frightening,” he said of the report. Clearly, Roof was thinking of killing more people, he said.

Roof, then 20, was not charged with a crime because it’s not illegal to possess a forearm grip of an AR-15. A Columbia Police Department report, called a “field interview” – a report that documents an encounter between a police officer and a civilian – was filed regardless.

The March 13 encounter has not been previously reported by the news media. The report was released by the Columbia police department late Thursday after a specific query by The State newspaper.

Roof was spotted at the park that day, a Friday, by the same police officer who allegedly found illegal drugs on him just days before at Columbiana Centre mall. The officer was off duty, so he called police, telling them Roof was loitering in his parked car.

The officer told police he had seen Roof sitting in black Hyundi sedan for several hours at Earlewood Park, just off North Main Street, two miles north of the State House.

The on-duty officer then went and talked to Roof, who told that officer “he was sitting at the park because he is not allowed to stay at home when his father is not present,” according to the report. “The subject later contradicted his original statement by saying he could have stayed home but did not want to.”

When asked by the on-duty officer if he could search the car, Roof consented. The weapon part and ammo clips were in the trunk, the report said.

Roof legally could have owned an AR-15. He told the responding officer he wanted to buy one but couldn’t afford it.

Two weeks later, Roof allegedly received money for his birthday that he used to buy the .45 caliber Glock handgun used in the allegedly racially motivated Charleston attacks, some relatives and friends have told media outlets.

Roof’s father, Benn Roof, lives on Cedar Street, not far from Earlewood Park. Benn Roof declined earlier this week to speak with a reporter. He referred a reporter to Columbia attorney John Delgado, who has not responded to numerous phone calls and a visit to his home and office.

Roof was out on a personal recognizance bond at the time of the March 13 encounter.

When being questioned for reportedly behaving strangely Feb. 28 at the Columbiana Centre mall, Dylann Roof was found to be illegally in possession of a bottle of schedule III drugs, identified as suboxone, according to an arrest warrant that was served on Roof on March 2. Suboxone is a habit-forming pain killer prescription drug subject to abuse and commonly used to treat heroin addiction.

Police went to the mall after security officers there notified them that Roof was going into stores asking “out-of-the-ordinary questions” such as the number of employees and closing time, that incident report said.

About six weeks after the March 13 stop, Roof was arrested again, this time for trespassing, after showing up at the mall after being banned because of the drug arrest.

Field interviews are not uncommon in police work.

“They are typically a more informal way of questioning and/or gathering on-the-spot information related to a call for service,” said Columbia police spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons.

“In this case, officers responded promptly to a loitering call and documented the encounter.”

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