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Charleston, SC shooting: Finding Dylann Roof

As news broke of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in June 2015, Storyful journalists Derek Bowler and Rachael Kennedy began working to verify social content around the incident, including looking for updates on the identity of the shooter, who had seemingly escaped

Storyful built lists to monitor high-value local social media accounts for updates to ensure we could inform our clients about breaking developments. As a result, we were able to move quickly when the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office posted a notice originating from the Charleston Police Department, to its Facebook page the day after the church shooting.

The post named Dylann Storm Roof as a chief suspect in the shooting incident, and provided extra details about his age, appearance, and vehicle. We contacted Darlington County Sheriff’s Office for confirmation on the post, but it was swiftly removed from Facebook.

Photo shows the notice posted by Darlington County Sheriff’s Office from Charleston Police Department

Using the unusual spelling of Roof’s forename, we managed to track down his Facebook profile, which listed him as living in Columbia, South Carolina, and as a former student of White Knoll High School, in Lexington, South Carolina.

Knowing that Roof had connections to Lexington, we were able to find a record from Lexington County saying Roof had previously been arrested for trespassing. In later reports from The Post and Courier, it became apparent that this was not the only time that Roof had been arrested.

By knowing the correct accounts to monitor, and moving quickly with the information once it was revealed, Storyful was able to quickly build a full picture of Roof.

The Manifesto

A manifesto described as belonging to Roof was discovered online on June 20 by Twitter user Emma Quangel.

The text of the manifesto, along with a downloadable zip folder of images of Roof appeared on a website titled ‘The Last Rhodesian’. Below is an outline of what Storyful was able to establish in looking at the website where the alleged manifesto was posted.

Storyful cannot confirm if the text on the website was written by Roof himself, but much of the rhetoric matches comments he has been quoted as making on the day of the shooting, and the images of Roof on the website appear to be original images captured by him.

Information obtained by Storyful shows that on February 9, 2015, a Dylann Roof, of 10428 Garners Ferry Road, South Carolina, was registered as the administrator of the site lastrhodesian.com. The following day, a privacy block was put on the registration, preventing the name and other information from appearing publicly. The site is due to expire on February 9, 2016.

Additionally, using a javascript query, Storyful learned that the manifesto text was last updated at 4:44pm on June 17, and that the home page was updated shortly afterward, at 5:12pm, just hours before the Charleston shooting took place.

Exif data analysis carried out on the images on the website showed that 33 of them were high resolution and were taken with a Kodak Easyshare C1530. Roof can be seen holding a Kodak Easyshare C1530 in the image below, indicating the images are original and were captured and uploaded by Roof. The remaining 26 images appear to have been modified and/or downloaded from social media platforms.

One of the images that appear in the downloadable folder is that of a .45-caliber pistol. Roof is alleged to have used a .45-caliber pistol in the attack on June 17.

Roof can also be seen holding what appears to be the same .45-caliber pistol in another image in the folder.

Through collating lists of authentic and accurate sources, and by knowing which open-source tools to use, Storyful was able to quickly build a picture of Roof after his name was first connected with the shooting. We then were able to establish to a high degree of certainty the veracity of his website and attached manifesto.

By analyzing the Exif data of the images from the website, Storyful was able to confirm that the images were authentic, original versions of photographs belonging to Roof.

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A project of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, First Draft News is an open-access site that provides practical and ethical guidance in how to find, verify and publish content sourced from the social web.