South Carolina Police Detain Photographer, Mistaking Him for Shooter

Carlos Miller

South Carolina Police Detain Photographer, Mistaking Him for Shooter Who Killed Nine People in Historic Black Church

A man taking photos near the South Carolina church where another man shot nine people Wednesday night was detained on suspicion he committed the murders.

The photographer was a young, white man wearing a gray shirt and a backpack – just as the suspect caught on surveillance camera was wearing when he entered the historic black church in Charleston and opened fire, telling congregants that “You rape our women. And you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Still, one would think the shooter would not be hanging around, interviewing random people at a gas station for a photo project, which is exactly what Austin Rich was doing when he was arrested.

The real shooter, Dylann Roof, was on his way to North Carolina where he was arrested earlier today.

And Rich was released about an hour later after Charleston police realized they had the wrong man. But he holds no grudges, as you can read in his Facebook post below:

In hindsight, we can see that although Rich may have matched the description of the shooter, he comes across as an affable young man who purposely seeks out strangers of all genders, ethnicities and races to photograph and tell their stories on his Facebook called “1,000 Days of Talking to Strangers.”

A complete contrast to Roof who comes across sullen, angry, racist and antisocial on his Facebook page, where he is wearing Apartheid-era flags on his jacket.

However, Roof also has a significant number of black Facebook friends. And he remained at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for nearly an hour before opening fire, so who knows what’s going on through his mind.

The shooting took place on the 193rd anniversary of a thwarted planned slave revolt that resulted in the church getting burned down. It was rebuilt, then destroyed again in an earthquake in 1886, where it was rebuilt again. Today, it is the largest capacity church black church in Charleston.

Killed in the shooting was Reverend Clementa Pinckney, not only the head pastor of the church, but a state senator who recently backed a bill mandating body cameras for every cop in the state, according to CNN:

He was elected to the State Senate in 2000 at age 27, according to the church’s website. He made his statehouse debut four years earlier when he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives.
Recently, he backed a bill to make body cameras mandatory for all police officers in South Carolina. The legislation was in response to the death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man killed by a police officer earlier this year.
“Body cameras help to record what happens. It may not be the golden ticket, the golden egg, the end-all-fix-all, but it helps to paint a picture of what happens during a police stop,” Pinckney said in April.

The bill passed last month but under the condition that such footage will not be available through public records requests.

As for Rich, who enjoys telling other people’s stories, he now has his own story to tell about how he was profiled because he was white.

Below are photos of Rich’s arrest along with a photo of the surveillance image police used to determine he matched the description.


War on Photography