The white man accused of gunning down nine black worshippers at a US church was ordered to remain in custody on murder charges Friday, as authorities said they were investigating the killings as a possible act of "domestic terrorism."
The carnage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was the worst attack on a US place of worship in decades and comes at a time of revived racial tensions in many parts of the country.
Reports that 21-year-old Dylann Roof — charged with nine murders as well as "possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime" — said he "wanted to start a race war" are sure to leave the city on edge.
The killings have also reignited concerns about gun control, with a clearly frustrated President Barack Obama saying the "senseless murders" on Wednesday night should force Americans to look closely at how violent people get easy access to firearms.
Tearful relatives of the nine people killed expressed grief but also forgiveness at an emotional bond hearing for Roof, at which he was ordered held without bail on the murder charges.
"Every fiber in my body hurts and I\’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But he was my hero," said Felicia Sanders.
Several US media outlets reported that Roof confessed to investigators that he walked into "Mother Emanuel" — one of the oldest black churches in the country — and opened fire on a Bible study class.
All of the victims were black.
A spokeswoman for the US Justice Department, Emily Pierce, said authorities were looking at the killings "from all angles."
"This heartbreaking episode was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism," Pierce said.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said she believed Roof should face the death penalty — legal in the state — if convicted.
"This is an absolute hate crime," Haley told NBC\’s "Today" show.
"We will absolutely want him to have the death penalty. This is the worst hate that I\’ve seen and the country has seen in a long time."
Roof was arrested in North Carolina on Thursday and brought back to South Carolina after he opted not to fight extradition.
Charleston County magistrate James Gosnell set bail at $1 million on the weapons charge, but Roof must go before another judge if he wants to seek bail on the murder charges. His attorney said he accepted the arrangement.
Gosnell\’s opening statement — in which he expressed sympathy for Roof\’s family — instantly created a stir on social media.
"We have victims, nine of them. But we also have victims on the other side. There are victims on this young man\’s side of the family," Gosnell said.
Conflicting descriptions of Roof, a high-school dropout, have emerged.
The thin young man with the bowl-style haircut is alternately described as a quiet, even friendly loner who snapped — or a calculating white supremacist who supported segregation and had been planning for some time to kill blacks.
Roof had been arrested in recent months on a drug charge — which is still pending — and trespassing at a mall.
Several US media outlets have reported that Roof has already confessed to investigators.
Roof told police he "wanted to start a race war," one law enforcement official told CNN.
Two sources also confirmed to NBC News that Roof — whose Facebook page includes a picture of him wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia — has confessed.
He told police that he "almost didn\’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him," the sources told the network, but ultimately, he decided to proceed.