A North Carolina florist has been credited with helping police nab Dylann Storm Roof, who opened fire at a historic African-American church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people Wednesday night. Debbie Dills was hailed as a hero, and her quick actions lauded, for helping end a nearly 13-hour manhunt for Roof on early Thursday.
Dills was reportedly on her way to work in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, when she noticed Roof’s car at a stoplight on Highway 74. She said that the vehicle looked familiar to her and she later identified the driver as Roof, according to the Associated Press (AP). Jerry Tessneer, a patrol officer with the Kings Mountain Police Department, which was first informed about Roof's location, confirmed that Dills was the tipster who helped capture the suspect.
Dills told AP that she got nervous after she realized that the driver was the same person who was being sought by police over the shooting, which is being investigated as a “hate crime.” She reportedly called her boss, Todd Frady, for suggestions on what she should do next. Frady then reportedly called his friend Shane Davis, who works for the Kings Mountain Police Department.
Dills then reportedly followed Roof’s car for about 35 miles after the Shelby Police Department was informed about the suspect. Police reportedly pulled over Roof near a grocery store along the four-lane highway in Shelby, North Carolina, which is about 245 miles northwest of Charleston.
Roof and his car were seen on video surveillance footage from the church, allowing authorities to quickly identify him hours prior to apprehending him.
"I'm going to go ahead and tell you, I was scared," Dills said, according to AP. "I told Todd, if (the suspect) gets out of this car and starts shooting, you tell my family I'm gone (to heaven). I know where I'm going."
Roof, a white male, entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, on Wednesday, during a prayer meeting, and after nearly an hour, began shooting, reloading five times and saying he was there to “shoot black people.” Several accounts indicate that Roof likely planned the attack for up to six months, and his motivation was primarily rooted in racism.
“It was God who made this happen,” Dills, who is white, reportedly said, after people called her a hero. “It don’t have nothing to do with Debbie. It don’t have nothing to do with Todd. It’s all about him. He answered the prayers of those people who were praying in Charleston last night, who were holding hands and praying.
"My heart went out to those people," Dills said, according to AP. "I was at church last night, too. It easily could have been me."
Prayers were held across the United States for the six women and three men who were killed in the attack. Services at several churches in Charleston overflowed with residents Thursday evening while hundreds also reportedly gathered outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
"We really have to fight together to go on and to live a civilized life where race doesn't matter," Martha Watson, one churchgoer, said, according to BBC.
Prayer services also took place in Miami, Detroit and Philadelphia, while in New York, several protesters reportedly walked the streets carrying placards with messages like, "Black Lives Matter" and "Stop killing black people."
A prayer vigil was also held outside the U.S. Capitol, and Senate chaplain Barry Black reportedly said: "Our hearts ache because, in the future, people will feel fear in the house of God when they should feel peace and serenity."