Murder in Charleston

Dylan Roof
Dylann Roof

One thing that’s missing in the national stories about the killings of nine black people at a Charleston, S.C., Bible study in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the suspected killer’s mental illness.

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely place in the country for mass murder than the South’s oldest African American church and during a Bible study meeting.

The victims include the popular minister, a librarian and university student among others – just an otherwise regular Wednesday evening at the church.

But then we’ve seen such killings in other unlikely venues in recent years – a Phoenix theater, an elementary school in Connecticut. The common link is the disturbed mind of the killer and his access to guns.

In this case, the apparent killer, Dylann Roof, was obsessed with African Americans. On his face book, he ranted that blacks were taking over the world. That’s what he wanted to talk about with friends.

Where’s the history of psychiatric treatment for Roof? Here’s a 21-year-old. It’s not clear he managed to finish high school. In March he was arrested in a drug case. Another time, he was stopped for trespassing.

He appears on his face book wearing Confederate garb and holding the rebel flag. Not so unusual for a kid who grows up in the South. He seems to have no job, no plan for schooling, no purpose in his life, except to complain about black people.

But for his 21st birthday, his divorced parents give him a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun. Or they gave him the money so he could buy the gun. What’s the story here?

For my 12th birthday, my parents bought me a single-shot Winchester. It was for hunting with my dad.

You probably wouldn’t choose to take a Glock on a hunting trip.

Roof sure must have had a chance to practice using the pistol. In the midst of his killing spree, witnesses said he reloaded several times. That takes practice.

Fortunately, the church’s security camera caught his picture as he fled the building. That photograph was quickly broadcast and he was arrested within hours of the shootings in North Carolina.

Yes, I suppose you can call this a hate crime. But I’m sure Dylann Roof isn’t the only young white supremacist in Charleston. I’m also sure he wasn’t the only white young man with an obvious mental illness who hated black people.

But the combination of an easy access to a gun and an apparent mental illness made him dangerous. Again, I’m surprised not to see stories of how Roof was in and out of a psychiatric ward.

No doubt more information will come out. What I’m sure of is that the state of South Carolina will seek the death penalty in Roof’s killing of nine innocent people at Bible study.

Here we are again a country in mourning for such a senseless crime. We still lack universal education for mental health. In contrast to other advanced countries, we lack rational gun laws.

We are left once more to mourn the victims. We are left to grieve with their families. We are left to wonder at the senselessness of it all.

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