Woman Who Spotted Suspected Charleston Shooter Says She Had Victims ‘On My Mind’

When the surveillance pictures of Dylann Roof, the man suspected of being the gunman in a racially-motivated bloodbath in a Charleston church, were first released on Thursday morning, I immediately figured he’d be spotted somewhere between south Georgia and my hometown of Charlotte. Savannah is only two hours south, while Charlotte is three hours north. I figured that Roof would know better than to hang around Charleston, and would either head down US-17 toward Savannah or up I-26 toward Charlotte. Given how widely his picture was circulated, I figured it would only be a matter of time before someone spotted him.

Debbie Dills, the woman who spotted Dylann Roof (courtesy WBTV)
Debbie Dills, the woman who spotted Dylann Roof (courtesy WBTV)

Well, it turned out Roof was caught just 45 minutes west of me–in Shelby, North Carolina. A woman spotted him on her way to work, and had her boss call 911. On Thursday afternoon, that woman, Debbie Dills, talked with WBTV in Charlotte about what was going through her mind when she saw the man who is likely responsible for Wednesday’s carnage. Watch here.

Dills heard about the shooting while she was at church in Gastonia. Like just about everyone else, she was stunned at how “horrific” the shooting was. “For some reason,” she said, “I just, I mean, I had those people on my mind.” The next morning, while getting ready to drive to her job at a floral shop in Kings Mountain, she saw the first surveillance photos of the suspected shooter and his car. She was still very touched by what happened, so she watched the coverage “maybe a little more than I normally would have.”

Dills was running late for work when she happened to be driving along U. S. 74 at around 10:15 a.m. and spotted a black Hyundai that bore a striking resemblance to the suspect’s car. She thought that the car looked very familiar to her for some reason. By her own admission, Dills is “not an observant person.” She thinks that the fact she even recognized the car was nothing less than “divine intervention.” Whatever the case, it made her look further–and she noticed it had South Carolina plates.

The clincher for Dills, however, was when she spotted the back of the driver’s head. The driver had a very distinctive bowl cut. Had it not been for that hairdo, he would have looked completely normal. According to Dills, he was driving normally. Any doubt in her mind was eliminated when she got in front of the car and saw the novelty Confederate flag tag on the front. Realizing that she may have spotted the thug responsible for the previous night’s butchery, she called her boss and told him about it. Her boss quickly realized the implications, and called the Kings Mountain police when Dills wasn’t sure whom to call.

Kings Mountain police immediately alerted the Shelby police to let them know Roof was probably headed that way. Shelby police pulled Roof over and arrested him without incident about half an hour after Dills first spotted him. Roof waived extradition and was flown back to Charleston, where in a matter of days he will likely be arraigned on nine counts of first-degree murder. And it all happened because a woman who works at a floral shop was in the right place at the right time and realized something was way off about the driver. Someone needs to get Debbie Dills a medal.

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.