MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, is from Lexington, S.C., near the state capital, Columbia. New York Times reporter Frances Robles has been talking with people there who know Dylann Roof. And, Frances, what's the portrait that you're hearing?
FRANCES ROBLES: The portrait is of a very, very quiet, you know, painfully shy person, who kind of disappeared off the radar for a number of years, and then recently had joined Facebook and started to reconnect with some of his childhood friends. And, then, all of a sudden, he's practically living with them. He had been working as a landscaper. He quit because it was too hot - that's what he told his friends - and then, one day, started talking about his desire for starting a race war, the need for whites and blacks to be segregated and that he had plans to do something big, that he wanted to hurt lots of people, and he had the gun to do it.
BLOCK: And this was something that he told numerous people more than one time?
ROBLES: Numerous people, one time - that is what the friend is saying, the friend he was living with. But they didn't take him seriously. You know, they had moments of whether they thought, well, you know, he's drinking. Apparently he does drink a fair amount. He's kidding, you know? Who would do such a thing? But, then, at the same time, the same friend, at one point, was worried enough that he hid Dylann Roof's gun from him. But, then, he had second thoughts because he didn't want to get in trouble for having the gun. So he gave it back.
BLOCK: Did the friends of Dylann Roof say that the racist views that he was spouting seemed to be deep-seated - go back for quite some time - or was this a transformation in him somehow?
ROBLES: They felt very much that this was a transformation, that - they had not seen him for five years - and that when they see him again, it's like a different guy. You know, he was quiet and he was emotionless. Suddenly, he's talking racist things. In fact, they had a friend, a neighbor who lives very close, who is African-American, who used to come by all the time. And they said that they never noticed Dylann acting unusually toward that friend at all.
BLOCK: The people whom you have talked to who know Dylann Roof, were they completely taken by surprise by what has happened, or, now that they're looking back at the things he said, are they putting pieces together and saying that we should have known?
ROBLES: I think they should've known. They did know, you know? I'll take it a step further. He specifically said that he wanted to hurt people and that he wanted to start a race war. So I think it's very clear that they knew that this guy was up to something and that they didn't take it seriously enough. I mean, Joseph Meek will say as much. It says the moral of the story here is, if you have something inside you that you think you should say, you got to tell somebody. He says, well, I did tell. I called the FBI when I saw him on the news. Well, you know, that was too late. That was nine people too late, and he knows that.
BLOCK: That's New York Times reporter Frances Robles. She's been reporting from Lexington, S.C. Frances, thanks for talking with us.
ROBLES: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.