A 21-year-old white gunman with a criminal record killed nine people at a Bible-study meeting in a historic African-American church in an attack that US officials believe was a hate crime.
Law enforcement officials yesterday caught alleged shooter Dylann Roof in Shelby, North Carolina, 240 miles north of the murder scene in Charleston, South Carolina, after a massive FBI manhunt.
A man who identified himself as Roof's uncle said he had recently been give a .45-calibre handgun as a birthday present by his father and said he recognised the man in the surveillance photo as his nephew.
"The more I look at him, the more I'm convinced that's him," said Carson Cowles (56) in a phone interview.
He said he had told his sister, Roof's mother, several years ago that Roof was too introverted.
"I said he was like 19 years old, he still didn't have a job, a driver's licence or anything like that and he just stayed in his room a lot of the time," Cowles added.
The victims - six females and three males - included Rev Clementa Pinckney, who was the church's pastor and a Democratic member of the state senate.
The Department of Justice opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting.
Roof sat with churchgoers inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for about an hour on Wednesday before opening fire, police chief Gregory Mullen said. He reloaded five times even as victims pleaded with him to stop, a relative of Pinckney's said.
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin, told MSNBC that a survivor told her the gunman reloaded five times during the attack. Pinckney tried to talk him out of it, she said.
"He just said, 'I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country'," Johnson said.
President Barack Obama expressed his anger, sadness and heartache at the church shootings.
He said that too often he has had to come to a microphone to mourn the deaths of innocents killed by those who had no trouble getting a gun.
"We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he said.
The president said he and First Lady Michelle Obama knew several parishioners there, including Senator Pinckney.
Over the past few months, demonstrations have rocked New York, Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri and other cities following police killings of unarmed black men including Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Michael Brown.
A white police officer was charged with murder after he shot an unarmed black man in April in neighbouring North Charleston.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which researches US hate groups, said the latest attack illustrates the dangers that home-grown extremists pose.
"Since 9/11, our country has been fixated on the threat of Jihadi terrorism, but the horrific tragedy at the Emmanuel AME reminds us that the threat of home-grown domestic terrorism is very real," the group said in a statement.
In a Facebook photo, Roof is seen scowling at the camera while wearing a jacket with two flags, one representing Rhod- esia and the other apartheid South Africa. Both were countries with white minority rule.
Yesterday, community leaders and friends and relatives of those killed held a prayer vigil near the scene of the shooting in downtown Charleston.