Dylann Roof: Questions Remain About the SC Church Killer

Dylann Roof: Questions Remain About the SC Church Killer

As a drug user, how did he buy the gun? And was he using narcotics at the time of the murders? On June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof walked into an historic South Carolina church and mercilessly took the lives of nine black people — the pastor and eight parishioners, including a state Senator. A 10 th victim survived. An intense manhunt led to Roof's arrest the morning after the shooting. Roof later confessed to the crime, and said he had hoped to ignite a race war. Roof remains in custody while the wheels of justice advance towards a trial later this year. The Dylann Roof case has attracted our attention for a couple of interesting reasons. One is about illicit drug use which may have had some bearing on things, which always concerns us here at Novus. The other is the question as to how Roof passed his FBI background check, allowing him to purchase the .45 caliber handgun with which he committed the hate crime.

The case actually has an earlier beginning

Four months before he committed his horrendous crime, Roof was arrested for trespassing at a mall in Columbia, SC. And a month or two later, he was arrested again at the same mall for the same reason. But something else happened during the first mall arrest. Police said that Roof was carrying "a pack of thin orange strips" in his pocket, which Roof admitted were the sublingual form of the narcotic Suboxone. Roof also admitted he didn't have a prescription for the addictive narcotic. So along with the trespassing charge, police also charged him with possession an illicit Schedule III narcotic. We mention all this because it has a direct bearing on how, and perhaps even to some degree why, Dylann Roof was able to march into the Emanuel AME church, sit around for a while listening to the pastor and parishioners, and then calmly take out his new .45 caliber handgun and shoot nine people to death and nearly kill a tenth.

The drugs, the gun, the shooting

Several pertinent questions about the shooting remain mostly unanswered:
  1. Was Dylann Roof under the influence of Suboxone or some other psychoactive drug or drugs when he committed the crime?
  2. Does Suboxone or other narcotics produce tendencies to violent behavior?
  3. How in the world did Dylann Roof pass the standard FBI gun sale background check just a month or so after an illicit drugs possession charge and two arrests for trespassing at a mall?

Some answers to the questions

We can try to answer some of these questions, but there's still a lot of omitted data.
  • Was Dylann Roof on drugs? There's been no info from law enforcement about drug testing at the time of arrest for the church shootings. Chances are pretty strong, however, that if Roof was a habitual opioid user, he would be inclined to use opioids at times of stress. It's absolutely standard behavior. And carrying out a mass murder has to be stressful. We don't know if he was on drugs that day - not yet - but habitual users of Suboxone often experience pronounced mood swings.
  • Do opioids cause violent behavior? Opioids are not usually connected in a causative way with violence, although extreme criminal violence and even mania has been seen. It may be that the natural sedative and euphoric effects of opioids allow a person's own violent tendencies to be more readily and easily expressed. In other words, it might reduce such barriers to committing violent criminal acts as conscience and rational decision-making. And then, there are those well documented mood swings...
  • How did Roof pass the FBI firearm background check? a) The FBI background checker learned that Roof had been arrested on a felony drug charge (for illicit possession of Suboxone). That charge was later changed to a misdemeanor. However neither charge would have failed the background check. More information was needed, but... b) Evidence now shows that local prosecutors in Columbia failed to respond to the FBI's request for more information in time to prevent the sale. Retailers can release a gun to a customer if there's no response from the FBI within three days. When the store didn't hear from the FBI within the time limit, Roof was handed the gun that killed 9 innocent people. ALSO c) If Roof had been tested for drug use and it was found that he was dependent or addicted to narcotics, he would have failed his background check. But no such tests were made, as far as we know, so no one knew at the time if Roof was an addict or even an habitual user.

FBI admits errors were made in gun approval

Once again, like so many other drug-related shootings in the past, the Roof case reveals serious weaknesses in our federal gun laws. On July 10, FBI Director James Comey told news reporters that the agency could have stopped Roof from buying the gun used in the massacre, but a "jurisdictional quirk" caused its routine investigation to be held up long enough for the gun dealer to legally go ahead and sell Roof the gun. The so-called "jurisdictional quirk" occurred because Columbia, SC, is split between two counties. The county first contacted by the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System had no record of Roof's earlier arrest - it was recorded in the other county which the FBI failed to check. "Dylann Roof, the alleged killer of so many innocent people at the Emanuel AME church, should not have been allowed to purchase the gun he allegedly used that evening," Director Comey told reporters. "This case rips all of our hearts out. But the thought that an error on our part is connected to this guy's purchase of a gun that he used to slaughter these good people is very painful to us." The FBI's regulations on background checks for gun sales can prevent a sale if the buyer has a criminal conviction or multiple arrests or even a positive drug test. According to a NY Times report, these reasons weren't applicable in this case. "But perhaps the FBI examiner, had she come across the incident report," the Times said, "would have concluded that the reported admission of drug possession by Roof was enough to disqualify Roof as an 'unlawful user of ... [a] controlled substance.'"

Suboxone isn't just an addiction treatment, it's a widespread addiction

Suboxone is one of several brand names for a combination drug containing three parts buprenorphine, an opioid that's not quite as powerful as other drugs in its class such as heroin, oxycodone or hydrocodone, and one part naloxone, an overdose antidote which is said to make users sick if they try to shoot it up with a syringe. (There are countless reports from opioid addicts across the country who inject and snort Suboxone on a regular basis without experiencing sickness. But that's for another story.) Suboxone comes in both pill form and as sublingual strips like those Roof had in his jacket pocket when he was busted at the mall and charged with possession. Suboxone is a Schedule III drug, whereas most other opioids are Schedule I or II. Suboxone is commonly used as a "step-down" drug for the treatment of addiction to stronger opioids such as heroin. When it was FDA-approved in 2002 for addiction detox and drug-replacement therapy, Suboxone was hailed as the new super treatment for opioid addiction. There's no question about Suboxone's power to get people high and to even become dependent or addicted if it's abused. It's widely diverted for illicit use on the streets, in prisons and even in schoolyards, so much so that instead of an opioid cure-all, Suboxone has become something of a scourge. Suboxone (and generic buprenorphine in other forms) has even earned a place in the pantheon of street drugs by getting its own street names: Subs, Bupe, subbies, oranges, sobos, box, stop signs and others. You get a bunch of nicknames, it means you've arrived; you're the author of your own historic subculture. It's caused its own nationwide epidemic of addiction.

Summing up

Rather than list the litany of more recent drug-related mass killings, we assume that you've been watching the news over the past decade or two and know full well that drugs and guns and unhappy people are a very bad mix - a common recipe for disaster here. While experts and authorities at all levels argue and complain and pontificate about drugs, guns and the psychology of mass murderers, hundreds of people continue to die. Left wingers agitate for more gun control, right wingers say guns don't kill, people do. One camp calls for drugs to treat drug problems, another camp calls for abstinence and even prayer. While the debates and theories flourish, the fact is that there's truth in most points of view, but not enough in any one of them to fully handle the problem. It's a real long-shot, but maybe someday a magic bullet may be invented that erases man's tendencies to addiction and violence. Meanwhile, we soldier on here at Novus, applying the latest, most effective state-of-the-art drug detox technology anywhere. We're dedicated to helping our unique and wonderful patients successfully get their lives back.

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