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Interview With South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn; Mass Shooting in South Carolina. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired June 18, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news.

In custody -- the alleged shooter in the Charleston church massacre is being flown back to South Carolina to face charges just hours after his capture. Was he solely driven by racism and hate or something else?

Exclusive images show the suspect, Dylann Roof, sitting inside a Bible class apparently posing as a worshiper before the fatal shots were fired.

In mourning -- worshipers praying for the nine churchgoers who were gunned down. Tonight, we're learning more about their lives and their deaths and the surprising ways that a few others survived.

Historic church -- one of the South's older African-American congregations is now a murder scene -- tonight, emotional comments from President Obama about the slaughter in Charleston and gun violence in America.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news, we're standing by for the alleged gunman in the Charleston church massacre to be flown to South Carolina. He's being sent back to face charges in the shooting deaths of nine members of an historic African-American congregation.

This is the first video of 21-year-old Dylann Roof in custody shortly after his capture in North Carolina.

Tonight, a CNN exclusive: images of Roof sitting inside a Bible study class before he allegedly opened fire. Police say he spent about an hour in the room and then revealed to his victims he was there to -- quote -- "shoot black people."

Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, he is standing in Charleston, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we cover this breaking story.

Let's begin with CNN's Brian Todd. He's on the scene in Lexington, South Carolina. That's the suspect's hometown.

Brian, what's the latest you're picking up there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, 21-year-old Dylann Roof is accused of a hate crime. As you mentioned, we have just learned that he has waived extradition in North Carolina and that he's being flown back to Charleston.

Also tonight, we're getting new details of his arrest and of his recent run-ins with police.


TODD (voice-over): Twenty-one-year-old accused killer Dylann Roof in custody today, captured just hours after he allegedly opened fire in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine.

JOE RILEY, MAYOR OF CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: That terrible human being who would go into a place of worship when people were praying and kill them is now in custody, where he will always remain.

TODD: Police seized Roof after his vehicle was spotted in Shelby, North Carolina, about a four-hour drive from the deadly rampage at Emanuel AME Church.

He was armed, but investigators don't know if it was the alleged murder weapon. Also, police say Roof's father gave him a .45-caliber gun for his 21st birthday in April. CNN has learned Roof had run-ins with police before. He was arrested this February at a South Carolina mall after employees at a Bath & Body Works complained that a white male dressed all in black was asking them -- quote -- "out-of-the- ordinary questions" about how many associates were working in the stores and what time they were leaving.

The officer who spoke to Roof said he became -- quote -- "nervous-acting" and was -- quote -- "taking more time to think of answers to my questions." He was arrested after the officer found illegal drugs used to treat addiction to heroin and other opiates in his pocket.

He told police he had no prescription for the drug, that a friend gave to it him. Two months later, Roof arrested again for trespassing in a parking lot at the same mall, ignoring a one-year ban the mall issued after his first arrest.

School officials tell CNN Roof bounced around elementary and middle schools in Lexington and Richland counties in South Carolina and that he had to repeat the ninth grade at White Knoll High School, before he went to another high school. One school official described Roof as -- quote -- "a transient student, always in and out of school."

I spoke to Roof's former ninth grade classmate John Mullins and asked him if Roof had any racist tendencies. JOHN MULLINS, KNEW ALLEGED SHOOTER: He said some, like,, jokes

before, but they weren't too serious. I didn't think of them as serious.

TODD (on camera): What kind of jokes?

MULLINS: I'm not really going to say them. But they were just racist slurs in a sense, like, under -- I don't know. You just say it like just as a joke. I don't know how else to explain it. But I never took it seriously. But now, like, he showed his other side.


TODD: John Mullins now says he should have taken Roof's jokes more seriously. Mullins says he is sick and devastated over the Charleston shootings. When I asked Mullins what he would say to Dylann Roof if he saw him right now, he said -- quote -- "You would have to bleep that out" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

We're also learning more about the victims tonight, the nine people killed at that Bible study class. They ranged from ages 26 to 87.


CNN's Alina Machado is in Charleston for us with new information.

What are you finding out, Alina?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the victims of this terrible massacre all had different backgrounds. They were husbands, they were fathers, they were preachers, even grandparents. But they were all united in their final moments by their faith.


CLEMENTA PINCKNEY, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATOR: I'm in my fourth year of pastoring here at the church.

MACHADO: Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who also served as a state senator, was silenced, along with six women and two other men at this historic black church. Survivors relayed horrifying details to Pinckney's family. His cousin told affiliate WIS the killer was intent on his target.

SYLVIA JOHNSON, RELATIVE OF VICTIM: He asked for the pastor. Where's the pastor? He sat next to my cousin, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, for -- throughout the entire Bible study.

MACHADO: Witnesses say the pastor was preaching when he was shot. Today, the Senate session in Charleston began with a somber remembrance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We seek this morning to gather and honor one of our own, one whom we love with all of our hearts.

MACHADO: Pinckney's empty desk in the state capitol decorated in his honor. The 41-year-old father of two had been serving in South Carolina's legislature for nearly two decades.

GREG MULLEN, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, POLICE CHIEF: Just a sweet, loving man, a dedicated public servant to his community, and also dedicated servant to his faith and his congregation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we could bow our heads for a word of prayer.

MACHADO: Among those Pinckney led in prayer and joined in death was Myra Thompson, the wife of one of the church's bishops, the wife of one of the church bishops. She was teaching Bible study as she was shot.

Fellow pastor Sharonda Singleton was also killed. Her son posted heartbreaking messages to Twitter last night just as news of the tragedy broke. "Something extremely terrible has happened to my mom tonight. Please pray for her and my family. Pray ASAP." He posted, but it was too late.

The high school speech therapist and track coach had been gunned down. As prayers echoed in the aftermath, the victims inside included Tywanza Sanders, seen here in his Facebook profile. He was a graduate of Allen University and a beloved local barber, his shop posting this tribute to their Facebook page today.

Cynthia Hurd, 31-year employee of the city's public library, was also killed. The library is closed today and confirmed her death on its Facebook page, writing that Hurd -- quote -- "dedicated her life to serving and improving the lives of others," lives of service cut shockingly short in a city now singing to fill their silence.


MACHADO: Now, 49-year-old Depayne Middleton-Doctor worked at Southern Wesleyan University. Her friends tell me she was the mother of four girls and had a deep, deep faith.

The other victims, 70-year-old Ethel Lance, 74-year-old Daniel Simmons Sr., and the oldest victim was 87-year-old Susie Jackson, Wolf.

BLITZER: A heartbreaking, heartbreaking development.

All right, thank you very much, Alina, for that report.

Now to those exclusive images inside that Bible study class before the shooting rampage.

CNN's Don Lemon broke this part of the story in the last hour.

I want you to update our viewers. Tell our viewers who may just be joining us, Don, what you have learned. DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, I have some new

information for you, as a matter of fact.

We had those exclusive pictures for you last hour. Now we have the video. First, the pictures, and as I bring our viewers up to speed on what's happening here. This -- These pictures are from a Snapchat feed of one of the victims, Tywanza Sanders.

It is of the shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, inside of this prayer service, inside of this Bible study, moments before this shooting happened. Also sitting at the table in a different photograph is one of the prayer leaders. It is believed it is possibly state Senator Clementa Pinckney, who also died, who happened to be the pastor at the church, because this person is leading, appears to be leading the service.

Now, Wolf, I want to show you the video. This is just in to CNN, new video from inside this church, the Emanuel AME Church. And there it is. It's a Snapchat from the feed as this Bible study is going on.

Everyone inside of this church, the reverend, the prayer leaders, the Bible leaders, the people who were there participating, welcomed this 21-year-old young man, or killer, we can call him now, alleged killer, into the fold because he led them on, believing -- making them believe that he wanted to be a part of the service, that he wanted to learn about the Bible, that he wanted to learn about God, he wanted to be a part of them.

And an hour later, he opened fire. He's accused of opening fire on people in there, killing nine people. They were there to study the Bible, to learn about God, and, instead, the devil was among them, Wolf.


BLITZER: Certainly was.

Don, hold on for a moment. I want to cue up that video. I want to play it. I just want to be able to hear it as well. So stand by for a sec.

LEMON: All right.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you know, I want to...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to talk a little more about it?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you know, I want to... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to talk a little more about it?


BLITZER: All right, so it sounds, Don, to me like the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, is helping, teaching in this Bible study class. You can hear a little bit of that. Isn't that your sense?

LEMON: That's the sense.

And, listen, we think it could be Pinckney or it could be Reverend Daniel Simmons, who also died, which was a 71-year-old pastor, Daniel Simmons Sr. But if he is the pastor of the church, it would make sense that he would be leading this Bible study, so there you have it, moments before that gruesome, gruesome terrorist act.

BLITZER: All right, Don, hold on for a moment.

I want to go to the airport in North Carolina. These are live pictures. I think we're about to see Dylann Roof being escorted, taken out of that vehicle, onto that plane. There he is. He just got out. He's got the bulletproof vest, surrounded by law enforcement.

They're taking him to that plane, which is going to fly him back to Charleston, South Carolina. There he is right there, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, walking on the tarmac, heading over to the small plane that will fly him back, waiving extradition, heading from North Carolina back to South Carolina, where he will face, presumably, murder charges.

Nine people, wonderful people, all of them, murdered at that Bible study class at this historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

There you see him right there being taken on that plane, authorities going through some final procedures, making sure he doesn't represent a threat to anyone there or to himself, for that matter.

Don Lemon, you're watching this scene, what's going on. It's obviously a very important moment right now.


And, Wolf, in the video, in the live pictures, he seems cooperative. He's not fighting. And if I may tell our viewers how -- what happened this morning, how he was captured, he was captured in Shelby, North Carolina, and from a BOLO that was put out, a be on the lookout. And they recognized the license plate. They recognized him. They recognized the car. When they ran the plates, they saw that it was him.

When they -- when they did apprehend him, he was carrying a gun, a .45-caliber handgun. That gun is believed to have been given to him by his father for his 21st birthday, which was just on April 3. Not sure if that is the gun he's accused of using in this particular incident, but what a not even 24 hours it's been since he began this -- the shooting began.

We were on the air last night at 10:00. This apparently happened at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. And then the information started coming in an hour later. But, yes, there you see him being cooperative. And according to sources and to police this morning, when they took him into custody, he was cooperative as well.

What does that mean? It doesn't mean anything, because he's accused of killing nine people and really committing a terrorist act, saying that, you're raping our women, you're taking our country, you have to be stopped, I'm here to shoot black people.

That's an act of terrorism. That is ethnic cleansing, when you say that you're going to take people of a certain ethnicity out.

BLITZER: He's now inside that cabin. You saw the handoff from North Carolina personnel, law enforcement personnel, presumably to South Carolina personnel. Maybe some federal authorities are on that plane as well. They're going to be carrying him, taking him back to Charleston, South Carolina, where, presumably, he will be facing murder charges, nine people slaughtered, massacred, inside that Bible study class in Charleston, South Carolina, an historic African- American church, Emanuel AME.

What a heartbreaking story this has been all along.

President Obama, meanwhile, he's sharing his anger, his heartbreak over the slaughter of these African-Americans in this sacred and historic church.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who is joining from us Charleston right now.

Congressman, I know you had a chance to speak with President Obama today. What did he tell you and what did you tell him?


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank you very much for having me, Wolf.

The president called as I worked my way from the airport here to the church to let me know that he was thinking of the members of the congregation of Emanuel, and, of course, he invoked his memories of both this church and Morris Brown AME, where we're having the service, and asked that I personally deliver his well-wishes to everybody. And, of course, I told him that I would keep him posted on what's

taking place here, because he expressed an interest in staying up to date on the activities here. And so, after a meeting tonight with the mayor and other members of the AME Church, I will get back with the president sometime in the morning to let him know what I know.

So, we just talked about that and his remorsefulness about all of this.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Congressman, this small plane that's about to carry Dylann Roof back to South Carolina from North Carolina, where he will face murder charges, nine people who were murdered.

And I want to talk about some of these people. You knew the pastor at this church.

But, if you could just stand by for a moment, Congressman, I want to take a quick break.


BLITZER: We will watch what's going on with this plane. We will take a quick break -- much more with Jim Clyburn when we come back.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.

The suspect in the Charleston church massacre is in custody. He's aboard that small plane, going to be flying him back to South Carolina from Shelby, North Carolina, where he will face charges in connection with the murder of nine people at a congregation, historic black church in South Carolina.

Charleston -- let's go to Charleston as we await to see this plane take off.

Congressman Jim Clyburn, South Carolina, is still with us.

Do you know, Congressman, if this alleged shooter is cooperating with police?

CLYBURN: I don't know that.

All that I have heard seemed to indicate that he gave them no trouble when they confronted him and arrested him. And how much he's cooperating beyond that, I don't know. But I really want to know, because I really believe that we cannot understand the full import of this action until we know what motivated this young man.

Now, if he had some individual antisocial feelings, even racial misgivings, that's one thing. But if he is acting out of his sensitivities and sensibilities with some kind of organized antisocial group that is proliferating the Internet with all of this hate stuff, then that's something else again, because I really believe that those people of goodwill that exist in this state and this nation have got to stop being silent, when we see so many things like this taking place.

I remember back in the '70s, when I was in the governor's office, the things we did under Governor West to penetrate and infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan to render them almost useless to everybody, including themselves. We have now stepped back from these groups. And we act as if, because we're not doing it, then we don't have any responsibility for it.

We have responsibility to each other. We have responsibility to this state and to this nation. And we see this kind of stuff taking place. We have got to speak up. We have got to stand up.

John Lewis would say, we have got to get in the way and make some noise. And unless people do that, speak up and speak out, the evil- thinking people will control the airwaves and they will control the activities, much of which is not good for the future of this great country.

BLITZER: Congressman Clyburn, as usual, well-said. I would like to continue our conversation tomorrow, if we can. Thank you so much today for joining us.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

BLITZER: I wish we were meeting under different circumstances.

CLYBURN: Thank you. Look forward to it.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

We will have more on the breaking news coming up. We're getting new chilling details of the church massacre that left nine wonderful people dead, plus new information about the 21-year-old suspect. Does he have ties to white supremacist hate groups?



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the 21-year-old suspect in the South Carolina church massacre being flown right now back to South Carolina, after making his first court appearance in North Carolina, where he was arrested.

Police believe Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at a Bible study class, all of them black, in what's being investigated as a hate crime.

CNN's Rene Marsh is working the breaking news for us.

What's the latest, Rene? RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, we

are taking a closer look at the alleged shooter's background. We know he's had brushes with law -- with the law before.

He was a transient student in high school, so much so, he had to repeat the ninth grade. We also know Dylann Roof told the victims he was there to kill black people. But investigators are still working to get a fuller picture of what could have pushed the alleged shooter to commit this heartless crime.


MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, new video of 21-year-old Dylann Roof in police custody for allegedly opening fire inside Emanuel AME Church.

He was caught on surveillance camera Wednesday night entering the church. Roof sat in Bible study with the church members for an hour before his deadly rampage.

[18:30:10] SYLVIA JOHNSON, COUSIN OF VICTIM: He loaded -- reloaded five different times.

MARSH: Witnesses say he stood up and said that he was there to, quote, "shoot black people."

JOHNSON: He just said, "I have to do it." He said, "You rape our women, and you're taking over our country, and you have to go."

MARSH: There were three survivors, the Charleston NAACP president telling CNN one of them, a woman, received a chilling message from the shooter. He was sparing her life so, quote, "You can tell them what happened."

RICHARD SCHWANN, FBI FORMER SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: There was some premeditation, some preplanning clearly on his part. There are a lot of reasons why he may have delayed his activities. He could have been enjoying the moment. He could have been waiting for the right opportunity.

MARSH: Police are calling the deadly shooting a hate crime. The FBI's investigating whether Roof is affiliated with any hate groups. His social media profile shows him wearing a jacket bearing two flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia.

SCHWANN: This is obviously a young man who is angry, who's disenfranchised with the great society that we live in.

MARSH: Police records show Roof had been arrested twice in South Carolina before, once in February at a mall after store employees complained a white male dressed in all black was asking, quote, "out- of-the-ordinary questions" about the number of associates working and when they were leaving. The officer on scene found narcotics in his pocket, used to treat opiate addiction, including drugs like heroin.

Two months later, he was arrested again for trespassing at the same mall.


MARCH: Roof was armed when he was arrested, but it's unclear if it was the .45-caliber gun sources say his father recently bought him for his 21st birthday this April.

Right now, investigators are looking hard at potential ties to domestic terrorist organizations and white supremacist groups to determine if he was influenced by any of those groups -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Rene, for that report.

I want to dig deeper right now with former FBI assistant director, CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin; and the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project, Heidi Beirich.

Heidi, was your organization aware of this suspect, Dylann Roof, before the shooting took place?

HEIDI BEIRICH, DIRECTOR, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER INTELLIGENCE PROJECT: No. We had nothing in our files on this particular suspect. And all the digging that we've done today doesn't indicate, at least at this point, that he was connected to an organized white supremacist group.

BLITZER: What about the patches on his jacket? As Rene just reported on, that Apartheid South African flag, the white supremacist Rhodesian flag, the country now known as Zimbabwe. Are these common symbols for white supremacist groups out there?

BEIRICH: Yes, even though we haven't connected him with a group, there's no question that he was connected to the ideology. Those particular patches have been worn at events, white supremacist events, in the United States.

The idea that whites in South Africa are under attack by black mobs is very common in white supremacist circles here. It sure seems like he might have spent some time on white supremacist forums and other places, sort of drinking the hate Kool-Aid and immersing himself in these ideas. Because the patches are, you know, slightly obscure for the mainstream, though they're not if you're connected to hate propaganda.

BLITZER: I'm sure authorities are going to try to figure out where he found these patches, where he got them, if others were involved.

Tom, tell us about the FBI role in finding out that kind of information.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: First of all, what Heidi just said is it shows you that, no matter what goofy belief you may have, you can find other believers on the Internet, like-minded groups that have the same type of thoughts or even happen to be influenced by them. But that would be the FBI's role in this, is to look at the membership of groups all over the nation.

There's hundreds of these white hate groups under a variety of different names to see if he did belong to any of them, or have communicated with any of them, or had frequent contact to their websites on his e-mails, on his Internet approaches, on his cell phone, just to make sure that he absolutely was a loner and not directly involved with one of these groups where there might be more.

Also, they have to be concerned now about the chatter on social media of sympathizers and copycats. That's a real possibility now of others that may have no connection to him.

BLITZER: The fact, Jeffrey, that he was driving away, what, 14 hours after this crime was committed. They found him eventually in North Carolina. Does that suggest this was not some sort of insane guy, that he won't be able to cop an insanity plea? Because if he was trying to escape, he obviously knew he did something wrong.

[18:35:11] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's one factor that will be relevant. And obviously, if insanity is the defense, there will have to be a lot of background research that both the prosecution and the defense will do.

You know, South Carolina is a very tough jurisdiction. It is a death penalty state. It is a state that doesn't have a hate crimes law, but it does actually execute people, unlike some states that technically have death penalty laws on the books.

And when you kill nine people, you can be sure that any prosecutor in that state is going to be looking for the death penalty. And regardless of whether the hate crime law is on the books or not.

BLITZER: How does a young person like this get so radicalized? Is it through the Internet, social media? What do you suspect?

BEIRICH: Well, I mean, unfortunately there are a lot of young people who get sucked into the white supremacist world, and it's basically two things that do that. Hate music, which is very, very attractive to kids who are sort of lost from, you know, dysfunctional family backgrounds and so on. And the second thing is the web. I mean, there are people who literally spend all day long on hate sites like, posting thousands and thousands of times a year. It becomes their entire social network. Their world is, you know, one of virtual hate propaganda. And that's how we see people come into this movement.

BLITZER: I want to show, Tom, our viewers once again this video that we got from inside that Bible study class. And take a look at this. He's sitting in there. The pastor is teaching from the Bible. Clearly, he's planning a massacre, right?

FUENTES: Right, oftentimes we see with this kind of mental condition that, once they've decided they're going to carry out the act, today's the day, this is the moment, there's almost a serenity that comes over them. They can sit there calmly, because they know, "This is what I'm going to do shortly, and there's no problem with doing it." And just a calmness comes over the person.

BLITZER: And as you point out, Jeffrey, that the fact that this is a hate crime, that the Justice Department in Washington now investigating it as a hate crime, if you're accused of nine murders, that's potentially the death sentence in South Carolina?

TOOBIN: Right. I mean, the federal investigation is likely to prove irrelevant. This is going to be a South Carolina case. It's going to be a death penalty case under any circumstances.

And the fact that federal hate crimes charges are a possibility is -- I mean, is basically irrelevant.

If I can just talk about one thing about the issue of patterns. You know, Dave Cullen wrote a remarkable book about Columbine. And that massacre has, obviously, some parallels here. And the thing that is so chilling about that book, and he goes into this in some detail, is that there is no pattern. That there are a lot of people on horrible anti -- those hate websites and very, very few of them commit crimes.

It is so hard to identify which ones of the people who have these horrible views actually put them into action. Ask that's what makes these crimes so difficult to anticipate.

BLITZER: Heidi, do you agree?

BEIRICH: Yes, it is very, very hard. But the one thing that I do know is that these places are literally dens of lone wolves. The number of killers that come out of these places is very high. There have been several mass shootings. You know, in Kansas last year by a white supremacist. A skinhead who shot up a Sikh temple. Many, many more.

And so these -- the one thing we know is that these environments are so toxic that they turn out killers at rates that are higher than other things.

BLITZER: Heidi Beirich, thank you very much.

Jeffrey Toobin, Tom Fuentes, thanks to you, as well.

More breaking news coming up. We're getting new information about the South Carolina church massacre, the nine victims and the 21- year-old suspect.

Plus President Obama's emotional reaction and blunt, blunt talk about gun control.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.


[18:43:59] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The suspect in that church massacre captured in North Carolina, being returned tonight to South Carolina. That's where police believe 21- year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at a Bible study at an historic African-American church in Charleston in what's being investigated now as a hate crime. President Obama's calling the deaths "senseless murders."


OBAMA: I've had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part, because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.


BLITZER: Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. What else is the president saying?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we should point out in the last several minutes the White House says this afternoon President Obama spoke by phone aboard Air Force One with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and the state's two senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott.

But the president's biggest call today, and it was somewhat surprising, was to ask the country once again to take a second look at more gun control. The president and the vice president, we should note -- this was something unusual about this mass shooting -- they both knew one of the victims. The pastor of the church where this rampage occurred, the South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney. Now, Mr. Obama has spoken out on mass shootings at least 14 times during his presidency, from Ft. Hood to Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, and even at the navy yard here in the nation's capital.

The killings in Charleston, Mr. Obama said, should serve as yet another wakeup call to the nation. Here's what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.


ACOSTA: Now, the president was acknowledging the political realities here in Washington. After the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary in 2012, the president pushed for a measure that would have required universal background checks, closing the local hopes of sales of firearms at gun shows and online. But after a massive lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association, that bipartisan proposal, the Manchin-Toomey amendment, was defeated.

Now, the president has not attempted gun control in Congress ever since. The White House said today, Wolf, the president is not likely to try for it again during his remaining time in office. Aides to the president say at this point, he has exhausted all of the executive actions that he can muster on gun control and, Wolf, as one official put it earlier today, we're very realistic about the political realities. They would like to get gun control done, they know they just can't do it, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now with the president of the National Urban League, Marc Morial.

Marc, where does the National Urban League stand on this issue of gun control?

MARC MORIAL, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: We are strong supporters of what I like to call gun safety, Wolf. And I think what we're talking about is some specific things, a stronger background check law. Something without loopholes, something that prevents people who might have a criminal background, people who may have a mental problem from possessing and owning handguns.

Secondly, safe storage laws which place a responsibility on parents, on others, to store a weapon if they rightfully own a weapon. So, we ought to talk about the specifics. I like to say it's gun safety because the objective here is safety, to keep communities safe.

Now, Wolf, this is a mass killing. This is a slaughter. But we've had 78 mass killings in the United States since the 1980s, with 600 people losing their lives. When is enough enough? When is enough enough and requires us indeed to act?

We have 16,000 homicides each year in the United States. That would fill up most professional basketball or hockey arenas. Of those, 70 percent take place because of a firearm.

Now, today, with this tragedy, we want to hear leaders from all walks of life speak out against hate -- hate speak, hate crimes, hate actions. We need those who are willing, not just those of us who speak out customarily on these, but elected officials, religious leaders from all denominations.

Today, it's African-Americans who are the victims of a hate crime or a mass killing. In the past, we have seen kindergarten children. We've seen people in a movie theater. We've seen people in a Sikh temple because the victims of these types of killings.

So, it's time, I think, for us to muster up the moral courage to recognize that we do not and we should not have a nation that tolerates these sorts of mass killings and a nation that's not going to tolerate 16,000 people dying of homicides each and every year with 70 percent of them being conducted with handguns.

So, I just think, Wolf, today it's an unspeakable tragedy. We share the grief and the pain and the suffering of the people in that community, the people of that state. And of course, the AME church, a historic church.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Let me ask you about churches, historically black churches in the South, in South Carolina, elsewhere, are they safe right now?

[18:50:00] MORIAL: I think everyone has to be vigilant. I think there's certainly, in our heart of hearts and I hope that this was a lone wolf acting alone, but we've got to be concerned about the presence of organized hate groups. One of your previous guests talks about that, the fact that they've proliferated. They have doubled in number in the last 20 years, and one cannot be blind.

So, people have to be vigilant, have to be careful, have to be aware. But a church, synagogue, a mosque, it's a house of worship. It's a place where people go to share the word of peace.

BLITZER: Would you agree -- a lot of viewers are tweeting me, telling me this is not simply a hate -- an act of hate or a mass murder, it's an act of terror. Do you agree?

MORIAL: I think, Wolf, we have to understand that it is an act of what we might call domestic terrorism. And maybe the classification and the line we have drown between classifying something as a hate crime and classifying something as a terrorist incident may be as people understand it -- this is very similar. It's the same. The law, our conventions, may treat it differently.

But, Wolf, when nine people in a church, nine innocent people praying to the god that they believe in and worship -- when they have invited an individual in who surreptitiously pretends to be a friend and then carries out an act like this, this is an act of intent. It's with malice. It's with forethought.

And I think we have to call it what it is. I remember when the Oklahoma City bombing took place almost some 20 years ago. It was immediately classified, if you will, as an act of domestic terrorism. Maybe we have to look at these in that way. Maybe it will trigger a more concerted effort in this country to root out these hate groups.

And we don't know today whether this young man was influenced by these hate groups. But the idea that he had the Rhodesian and the South African apartheid flags on his chest displaying them to me is a sign that he may have had some influence, some place, somewhere online --


MORIAL: -- some connectivity to these hate groups. BLITZER: And where he got those flags is going to be a subject

of intrigue and importance.

Thanks very much, Marc Morial, the president of National Urban League, for joining us.

MORIAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're also getting new information coming out tonight about the church massacre, the 21-year-old suspect. More on the breaking news when we come back.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof being flown back to South Carolina right now where he faces charges in the massacre that left nine people dead at an historic African-American church.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Located less than a mile from Charleston's historic slave market and established in 1816, deep in the slavery years, Emanuel has always been more than a place of worship. As the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South, it's a living testament to the trials of black America.

Here, one of the church founders tried to organize a slave rebellion almost 200 years ago, only to see the church burned to the ground when it was discovered more than 300 alleged plotters were arrested, 35 were executed. Here, runaway slaves were secretly helped in their perilous journey north.

Here, Martin Luther King Jr. invited new generations to march for equality even as white supremacists were still hoisting their own crosses. Through it all, Emanuel has been a leading force for AME churches and outspoken leaders.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: People like Frederick Douglass and Harriett Tubman and Rosa Parks belonged to it. And the AME church is always about human rights and civil rights.

ALTON POLLARD III, DEAN, HOWARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DIVINITY: The black church has always been our freedom house.

FOREMAN: Alton Pollard III is dean at the Howard University School of Divinity. And he said Emanuel led the way for so many black churches by being a place where African-American politicians, leaders, organizers, teachers and more could find acceptance when they were barred from so much of America.

POLLARD: You know that you will come there unfiltered. You will come there without recrimination made against you. So, no matter the disparages of the largest social order, you come here and you can learn how to be as fully human as you are.

FOREMAN (on camera): That's what Emanuel meant to people?

POLLARD: Yes, yes, absolutely. And part that means the affirming of every single person who comes inside our door and those who are within the communities around us.


FOREMAN: In short, Emanuel AME has been visited by tragedies many times over many years and it is a testament to that church and indeed the black churches everywhere, but their congregation has found ways to mourn, then recover and then move forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well said. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

Our special coverage of the deadly church shooting in Charleston continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".