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Alleged Shooter Visited Slave Plantations Before Church Shooting

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The young man identified as the gunman in Charleston is seen holding the Confederate flag in a number of photos on his website. It has since been taken down. The photos appear to be an eerie chronicle of Dylann Roof's obsessions and his travels across the South to explore them. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: There were 60 photos on Dylann Roof's website. They're now part of the investigation by Charleston Police and the FBI. In one photo, Roof stares into the camera, dressed in all-black. He's at the former McLeod Plantation. With his hands behind his back, he stands in front of a wooden sign.

O'ROURKE: It says sacred burial site for African ancestors.

WANG: That's Tom O'Rourke, who runs the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, which now manages the plantation as a historic site. Roof also posed near the plantation's former slave cabins.

O'ROURKE: To see his picture on this site, after what he did in front of these buildings - I mean, I had to turn the computer off. I couldn't look at them.

JOE MCGILL: Hi, folks. Welcome to Magnolia Plantation in the Charleston, S.C., area.

WANG: Guide Joe McGill drives a tram car of tourists through Magnolia Plantation, another historic site. The infamous photo of Roof glowering at a camera appears to have been taken here.

MCGILL: OK, where are we going? We're going to be able to see four slave cabins - four original slave cabins.

WANG: The tiny houses sit in a row near a swamp. Inside the cabin, streams of sunlight peek through cracks between the wooden slats. McGill says he doesn't remember seeing Dylann Roof coming by here, but...

MCGILL: It shouldn't surprise me because we get lots of visitors, lots of people.

WANG: McGill has noticed that most of the people who go on his tour are white, like Julia Alexander of Friona, Texas. She says she came to this plantation to learn some history and take in some nature, and she can't understand how visiting a place like this could lead someone to kill.

JULIA ALEXANDER: This isn't going to inspire anybody to shoot anybody. You know what I'm saying? Whatever sickness he had in his soul, I don't think it was his music he listened to. I don't think it was the places he visited. I think it was some sickness inside of him.

WANG: Besides plantations, Dylann Roof also visited a small museum three hours away from Charleston. It's in a house tucked away on a quiet street in Greenville, S.C., with the stars and bars flying outside the front door. Its mission?

MICHAEL COUCH: To know the true history of the cause for which our ancestors fought. States are sovereign.

WANG: Michael Couch is the executive director of the Museum and Library of Confederate History. Inside, it's filled with books, guns and artifacts from South Carolina's past during the Confederacy. On Dylann Roof's website, Roof appears outside the museum. The photo leaves Michael Couch defensive.

COUCH: Probably have photos of 10,000 people standing in front of this museum. What does that have to do with anything?

WANG: Al Phillips of Greenville, a frequent visitor, says the museum should not be judged by this one visitor.

AL PHILLIPS: If he was here, he was here for the wrong reason. This is not a political arena here. This is a museum.

WANG: But all of these places are tied together by South Carolina's uncomfortable history with race. It's the main topic of the manifesto found on Dylann Roof's website. Back on the McLeod Plantation, Tom O'Rourke says Roof may have misinterpreted the purpose of preserving plantations.

O'ROURKE: This whole site is about healing. This whole site is about telling a story that takes some guts to tell.

WANG: And that story, O'Rourke says, is about the brutality of slavery and its lasting influence on race relations today. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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