A florist who was instrumental in the arrest of Dylann Roof – spotting his car, following it for 30 miles and alerting police – has been hailed a hero following the apprehension of the Charleston shootings suspect.
Debbie Dills was driving to work through Gastonia, North Carolina, when she spotted Roof’s car, a black Hyundai Elantra, sporting a South Carolina tag and a Confederate flag.
It rang a bell – and she recognised the suspect’s bowl haircut from the news – but she wasn’t sure it was him, so she rang Todd Frady, her boss at Frady’s Florist, in Kings Mountain, who called police.
Despite nerves, Ms Dills decided to trail the vehicle for around 30 miles, until Roof was arrested by local officers in Shelby, North Carolina – around 250 miles and four hours’ drive from Charleston – to bring an end to a 14-hour manhunt.
Ms Dills, from Gastonia, told the Guardian that something “just didn’t look right” about the car, which was driving along US Route 74, so she impulsively decided to follow it.
“I saw the pictures of him with the bowl cut. I said, 'I've seen that car for some reason.’ I look over, and it's got a South Carolina tag on it,” Ms Dills told the Shelby Star, her local newspaper.
“I thought, 'Nah, that's not his car.' Then, I got closer and saw that haircut. I was nervous. I had the worst feeling. Is that him or not him?”
In pictures: Charleston vigil
In pictures: Charleston vigil
1/6 Charleston vigil
Sunlight shines through a window and onto some of the thousands of people gathered for a city-sponsored prayer vigil for the nine victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting
2/6 Charleston vigil
People attend a vigil at TD Arena for victims of the Charleston church shooting
3/6 Charleston vigil
A view of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina
4/6 Charleston vigil
People attend a prayer vigil at the TD Aren
5/6 Charleston vigil
Family members of the nine victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting sit on the first five rows during a prayer vigil at the College of Charleston TD Arena
6/6 Charleston vigil
NBA Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (C) joins thousands of people for a prayer vigil for the nine victims
After calling her boss, Ms Dills initially took her exit for work – but changed her mind and decided to re-join the highway to track the black Hyundai to see what happened, and whether the vehicle really belonged to Roof.
She said: "He wasn’t doing anything abnormal. He wasn't driving slow. He was just driving. He just kept going."
After arresting him, the police officers involved – who turned up within 15 minutes of taking Mr Frady’s call – visiting Ms Dills at work to thank her and shake her hand. But in interviews, she credited god for placing her at the right place at the right time.
“I was in church last night myself. I had seen the news coverage before I went to bed and started praying for those families down there.
“Those people were in their church just trying to learn the word of God and trying to serve. When I saw a picture of that pastor this morning, my heart just sank," she told the Star.Reuse content