Just over a year after Dylann Roof opened fire during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, killing nine people including the pastor, the families of the victims along with five survivors have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the FBI, arguing that federal negligence enabled the shooter to buy the .45-caliber handgun he used.
According to the Charleston Post and Courier, the suit alleges that the FBI negligently failed to properly check the 22-year-old gunman's background before he bought the gun last year. If the agency had conducted thorough research, Roof's prior drug arrest would have shown up, and the bureau would have denied his purchase, the lawsuits filed Thursday allege.
"At the end of the day, those who were wrong are accountable," one of the plaintiffs, Arthur Hurd told the Huffington Post. Hurd's wife, Cynthia, was among those killed at the church in Charleston in June 2015.
"Our government should stand up and do for the people what is right," Hurd said.
Last year, FBI Director James Comey admitted that Roof was able to buy a gun in April 2015 because of errors in his federal background check. The examiner who conducted Roof's check did not see a February 2015 police report in which Roof admitted to unlawful drug possession, which would have barred him from buying the weapon, Comey said last year.
An attorney for the survivors and the victims' families, Steve Schmutz, told The Post and Courier, "The families are convinced that if government negligence didn't happen, their family members would be alive today."
When Roof opened fire on the 13 men and women who had welcomed him an hour earlier for Bible study and prayer, he reportedly told one victim who begged him to stop: "'No, you've raped our women, and you are taking over the country ... I have to do what I have to do.'"
Witnesses told law enforcement officials that Roof had also declared that he was at the church "to shoot black people."
Roof also wrote a 2,400-word creed explaining why he had "no choice" but to take action after finding "pages upon pages of these brutal black on white murders" on the Council of Conservative Citizens' website, a group opposed to "the integration of the races."
He expressed similar white supremacist beliefs in his apparent online manifesto, in which he referred to blacks as "the group that is the biggest problem for Americans" and argued throughout that whites "are in fact superior."
Roof has since been charged in state court with murder and attempted murder, while federal prosecutors have charged him with 33 counts including hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms offenses.
Lawyer Andrew Savage, who represents three survivors and relatives of five victims, said that his clients hoped the litigation would lead to improvements in gun safety.
"The victims and families hope that by bringing these actions, they can shine a very bright light on these shortcomings and prevent other individuals, families and communities from dealing with unfathomable and preventable loss and injury," he said.