The man accused of massacring nine people at a church in Charleston intended to target a local university but could not get past security, friends have claimed.
Dylann Roof has been charged with murdering six women and three men at a Bible study meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on Wednesday.
Investigators have called it a “hate crime” and suggested the 21-year-old chose the predominantly black institution because of his racism.
But friends have now said he told them he wanted to “shoot up” the College of Charleston, a liberal arts and sciences university in the South Carolina City.
Christon Scriven told The Associated Press that Roof said “he was going to hurt a bunch of people".
"I said, 'What did you say? Why do you want to hurt those people in Charleston?'"
"He just said, 'In seven days...I have seven days.’”
Mr Scriven, 22, said he dismissed the threat as drunken rambling but that he and another friend, Joey Meek, took Roof’s .45-caliber handgun from his car and hid it in an air-conditioning vent of a mobile home until they all sobered up.
A week later, Roof allegedly sat in Bible study at Emanuel AME for more than an hour before opening fire on the people who welcomed him, telling them: “You are raping our women and taking over the country…I have to do it.”
“I don't think the church was his primary target because he told us he was going for the school,” Mr Scriven said.
“But I think he couldn't get into the school because of the security ... so I think he just settled for the church.”
The College of Charleston carries the slogan #CharlestonStrong on its website today, along with a memorial to Cynthia Hurd, who was one of its longest-serving librarians.
The 54-year-old, described by university President Glenn McConnell as a "beloved and valued" member of the community, was one of the people allegedly gunned down by Roof.
He reportedly confessed to the shooting yesterday in custody, telling police that he wanted to start a race war but considered abandoning his plan because his would-be victims were so nice to him.
Four months before the deadly rampage, court records show Roof was arrested at a Columbia shopping mall on a drug charge after going around dressed all in black, asking suspicious questions about when shops closed and employees left for the night.
His Facebook profile picture shows him wearing a jacket adorned with the flags of apartheid-era regimes in South Africa and former Rhodesia but he also had many black people listed as “friends” on the site.
His neighbour, Mr Meek, lived next door to him at a mobile home park in Lexington and said he had dropped out of high school several years ago.
His former friend recounted how a drunken Roof complained “blacks were taking over the world” and that “someone needed to do something about it for the white race.”
Mr Scriven said Roof was unhappy, moving between the homes of his divorced parents, and that his mother tried to take his gun from him but he got it back.
He and Roof's other friends are now struggling with the knowledge that they might have been able to prevent the killings.
“I think everyone feels guilt,” Mr Scriven said. “There are a lot of things that happen in life that we just don't understand and we'll never understand.
“And this situation is something that you're not going to find the answers to from ordinary people…the only person that can tell you is Dylann.”
Additional reporting by AP
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies