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Charleston suspect had long been on troubled road to radicalization

Suspected Charleston shooter Dylann Storm Roof appeared via video before a judge on June 19.Centralized Bond Hearing Court via AP

CHAPIN, S.C. — The people who know Dylann Storm Roof — the people who watched his progression from a sweet child to a disturbed man — are struggling with guilt.

How could they have missed the signs? Could they have done something to prevent the deaths of nine innocents at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church? How did it all happen?

Roof himself offers no answers. He sits in North Charleston’s Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center, charged with the murders, his $1 million bail far beyond reach.

But talk to his friends and family and a portrait emerges of a troubled and confused 21-year-old, often drunk and occasionally threatening violence as he alternated between partying with black friends and spouting white power slogans to white friends.


Court documents and nearly two dozen interviews show Roof’s early childhood was troubled and confused as well, as he grew up in an unstable, broken home amid allegations of marital abuse and infidelity.

He apparently fell under the thrall of racist websites. But how and why are questions that remain unanswered.

As a 4-year-old, ‘‘he was so sweet and bright,’’ recalled Patricia Hastings, who was once his stepgrandmother. Seventeen years later, she is among many who are trying to figure out what happened to Roof.

There is little dispute his childhood was difficult.

Franklin Bennett Roof was a 25-year-old carpenter working for a home construction company when he met 29-year-old Amelia ‘‘Amy’’ Cowles, a recent divorcee, barely 5-feet tall with blond hair to her ankles. He was the son of a prominent Columbia attorney; she was a bartender at the Silver Fox. They married in 1988 and had a daughter, Amber, four months later.

They separated in 1990 and divorced a year later. A few years later they briefly reconciled, but split again before Dylann was born on April 3, 1994.


Four years later, Franklin Roof married Paige Hastings.

In an affidavit filed in her 2009 divorce, Paige said she became a surrogate mother for the children: ‘‘I raised his kids from a very young age, took them to all of their activities.’’

Patricia Hastings said her daughter loved Dylann and Amber ‘‘unconditionally as her own.’’ She said Amy Roof would leave them in Paige’s care with little notice, even though Paige had her own new baby, their half-sister Morgan.

Paige cut Dylann’s hair in the bowl cut he still wears; she took Amber to college orientation because ‘‘both parents were unavailable,’’ Paige’s friend Leslie McArver wrote in an affidavit.

As he grew, Dylann exhibited obsessive compulsive behavior, Hastings said. He would obsess over germs, and insisted on having his hair cut in that same style, Hastings said.

Still, he played video games, interacted with the family, attended church and Bible camp.

But things grew stressful at home. Money was a problem so Paige took a part-time job. Franklin Roof was often out of town. Franklin Roof was verbally abusive, Paige’s friend Carol Elliott wrote in an affidavit.

After Paige filed for divorce, Franklin Roof hired a private investigator to shadow her, revealing she was having an affair, according to the court documents.

The divorce was granted in 2009. Hastings recalls that her daughter told her she felt guilty about leaving Dylann.

Paige has remarried; her last name is now Mann. Paige refused to talk to the Associated Press, as did Franklin and Amy Roof.


Roof began having trouble in school. He failed the ninth grade twice, then dropped out for good in 2010.

People around him worried about his lack of direction. He was spending too much time in his room in front of the computer. They pushed him to get a job, but he was unhappy, his friends said.

Over the past year, Roof became increasingly unhinged.

In February, worried employees at a Columbia shopping mall called the police when Roof, dressed in black, asked them suspicious questions about when stores closed and when they left for the night, according to court records. He was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possessing the drug Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate dependence.

In March, a police officer searched his car and found six empty 40-round magazines for an AR-15 assault rifle, according to a police report. Roof said he was saving up to buy an AR-15, the report said.

In April, he was arrested again on a charge of trespassing at a mall from which he had been banned.

He had become a recluse. He never responded to an invitation to Amber’s wedding, which had been planned for last weekend but was postponed after the massacre. He also appears to have begun a journey into the world of Internet hate sites, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks those sites.

Roof appeared to be ‘‘AryanBlood1488,’’ who began posting on the white supremacist site the Daily Stormer in August, said Keegan Hanks of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Over several months, ‘‘AryanBlood1488’’ described how he typed ‘‘black on white crime’’ into a Google search, found the Council of Conservative Citizens site, and descended into radicalism from there.


Kyle Rogers, a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens who lives in Summerville, S.C., says Roof didn’t have any direct dealings with the group.