Charleston church shooting

Charleston church shooting
Part of Mass shootings in the United States
A white-painted church at sunset.
Charleston church shooting is located in South Carolina
Charleston church shooting (South Carolina)
Charleston church shooting is located in the United States
Charleston church shooting
Charleston church shooting (the United States)
LocationEmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
Coordinates32°47′15″N 79°55′59″W / 32°47′15″N 79°55′59″W / 32.78750; -79.93306
c. 9:05 p.m. – c. 9:11 p.m.[1] (EDT)
TargetAfrican American churchgoers
Attack type
Mass shooting[2]
Hate crime
WeaponsGlock 41 .45-caliber handgun
Non-fatal injuries
PerpetratorDylann Roof (sentenced to death)[5]
MotiveWhite supremacy, desire to start a race war

The Charleston church shooting (also known as the Charleston church massacre)[6][7][8] was a mass shooting in which Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, murdered nine African Americans (including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney) during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on the evening of June 17, 2015. Three other victims survived. The morning after the attack, police arrested Roof in Shelby, North Carolina. Roof confessed to committing the shooting in the hope of igniting a race war. The shooting targeted one of the United States' oldest black churches, which has long been a site for community organization around civil rights.

Roof was found competent to stand trial in federal court, and in December 2016 was convicted of 33 federal hate crime and murder charges stemming from the shooting. On January 10, 2017, he was sentenced to death.[9] Roof was separately charged with nine counts of murder in the South Carolina state courts. In April 2017, Roof pleaded guilty to all nine state charges in order to avoid a second death sentence and was sentenced to life imprisonment for each, clearing the way for his eventual federal execution.[10][11]

Roof espoused racial hatred in both a website manifesto published before the shooting, and a journal written from jail afterwards. Photographs posted on the website showed Roof posing with emblems associated with white supremacy and with photos of the Confederate battle flag. The shooting triggered debate on its modern display, and following the shooting, the South Carolina General Assembly voted to remove the flag from State Capitol grounds.

Until surpassed by the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting and the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, this was the deadliest mass shooting at an American place of worship, alongside a 1991 attack at a Buddhist temple in Waddell, Arizona.[12]


The 203-year-old church has played an important role in the history of South Carolina, including the slavery era, the civil rights movement, and Black Lives Matter.[13] The church was founded in 1816 and it is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South, often referred to as "Mother Emanuel".[14][15] It is the oldest historically black congregation south of Baltimore. When one of the church's co-founders, Denmark Vesey, was suspected of planning a slave rebellion in Charleston in 1822, 35 people, including Vesey, were hanged and the church was burned down.[16][17] Charleston citizens accepted the claim that a slave rebellion was to begin at the stroke of midnight on June 16, 1822, and to erupt the following day; the shooting in 2015 occurred on the 193rd anniversary of the thwarted uprising.[18] The rebuilt church was formally shuttered with other all-black congregations by the city in 1834, meeting in secret until 1865 when it was formally reorganized, acquired the name Emanuel ("God with us"),[19] and rebuilt upon a design by Denmark Vesey's son.[18] That structure was badly damaged in the 1886 Charleston earthquake.[20][21] The current building dates from 1891.[18][19]

The church's senior pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, had held rallies after the shooting of Walter Scott by a white police officer two months earlier, in nearby North Charleston, and as a state senator, Pinckney pushed for legislation requiring police to wear body cameras.[22] Several observers noted a similarity between the massacre at Emanuel AME and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of a politically active African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) killed four black girls and injured fourteen others, an attack that galvanized the civil rights movement.[21][23]

A number of scholars, journalists, activists and politicians have emphasized the need to understand the attack in the broader context of racism in the United States, rather than seeing it as an isolated event of racially motivated violence. In 1996, Congress passed the Church Arson Prevention Act, making it a federal crime to damage religious property because of its "racial or ethnic character", in response to a spate of 154 suspicious church burnings since 1991.[24][25] More recent arson attacks against black churches included a black church in Massachusetts that was burned down the day after the first inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009.[26][27][28][29]

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