COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Four months before the deadly shooting rampage at a black Charleston church, Dylann Roof was arrested at a shopping mall on a drug charge after going around dressed all in black, asking employees questions that raised suspicions.
Continuing coverage: Charleston church shooting
He was arrested there again two months later for violating a one-year ban from the mall.
It was not clear what his intentions were. But the operators of the suburban Columbiana Centre mall were concerned enough to put the place on high alert Thursday when Roof was identified as the suspect being sought in the church shooting.
The two incidents at the mall add to the catalog of erratic behavior on Roof’s part in the months before the 21-year-old white man was arrested this week in the slaying of nine people at a Bible study session. In addition to having the two run-ins with the law, he bought a gun, railed against blacks and talked about a “plan,” a childhood friend said.
A Columbia police report from Feb. 28 said Roof went to a shoe store and a Bath and Body Works at the mall, asking employees how many people were working, when they closed and when they left their jobs. Workers at the stores contacted mall security, a force that includes off-duty city police officers in uniform.
Columbia Officer Brandon Fitzgerald, who was on patrol at the mall, confronted Roof. In his report, the officer wrote that Roof appeared nervous and said he was being pressured by his parents to get a job, though he didn’t ask either store for a job application.
According to the report, the officer searched him and found strips of suboxone — a drug that is typically used to treat addiction to heroin and other opiates but can itself be used to get high. At first, Roof said they were Listerine strips. When pressed, he admitted they were suboxone and said he had gotten them from a friend and did not have a prescription for them, the report said.
Roof was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge, and his Hyundai, the same car he was arrested in after the church shooting, was towed from the parking lot.
Despite being told to stay away from the mall, Roof was arrested there again on April 26 and charged with trespassing. After that, he was banned from the mall for three years.
Columbia police said Thursday that Fitzgerald was not available for an interview. Ken Matthews, the attorney representing Roof on the still-pending drug charge, did not return a message seeking comment.
Court records show Roof was found guilty on the trespassing charge by a judge, who sentenced him to pay $262 in fines or serve 12 days in jail. Roof had not yet paid the fine at the time of the shooting, according to records.
“Anything suspicious, in this day and age, we obviously take seriously,” Andy Peach, the general manager of the Columbiana Centre, said Friday. “The minute we found out he had the history at the mall and that he was from the Columbia area and had not been apprehended, we went on high alert, probably along with every other shopping mall in the state of South Carolina.”
In the weeks before the shooting, Roof complained that black people were “taking over the world” and that someone needed to do something about it, according to friend Joseph Meek Jr. Also, Roof’s Facebook photo showed him wearing a jacket with flag patches of the former white-rule regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia.
“He said he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. I said, ‘That’s not the way it should be.’ But he kept talking about it,” Meek said. Roof also said that he had used birthday money from his parents to buy a Glock handgun and that he had “a plan,” but he didn’t elaborate, according to Meek.
Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow him at http://Twitter.com/mbieseck