GASTON, S.C. — Dylann Roof grew up in this rural town on the distant fringe of South Carolina’s state capital, a quiet, shy boy who mostly kept to himself. He didn’t get into trouble. He didn’t especially stand out.

At some point that changed, and Roof’s slow, aimless walk into adolescence veered off its lightly marked path. He dropped out of high school after ninth grade and didn’t return, drifting anonymously without the apparent moorings of common teenage interests.

By this year, under pressure from his parents to get a job, he was hanging around a local mall, asking shopkeepers at what time their stores opened and closed in an unsettling ritual that eventually drew the attention of police. Then, a few months ago, Roof was arrested on drug charges as he slipped toward his alleged horrific Wednesday evening visit to the Emanuel AME Church about 100 miles southeast of here in Charleston.

Nothing had prepared his family for the shock of the crime and the images, on television screens and websites, of a son, nephew and brother who overnight had become the target of a nationwide manhunt that ended during a traffic stop in North Carolina.

“The whole world is going to be looking at his family who raised this monster,” Roof’s uncle, Carson Cowles, said Thursday as he wiped away tears outside his mobile home here. While Roof was quiet and “did stay a lot to himself,” Cowles said, his mother “never raised him to be like this.”

In the interview Thursday, Cowles said his nephew had no issues with African-Americans. But the accounts of law enforcement officials and some of Roof’s own possessions appeared to indicate otherwise.

His Facebook profile shows a picture of Roof in the woods, wearing a jacket with two conspicuous patches – old flags of former regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where white minorities governed majority-black populations through racist laws and brutality.

For American white supremacists, apartheid South Africa and renegade Rhodesia have often stood as cautionary tales of what happens when whites relinquish their political power.

Roof also invoked his own country’s racial history with the emblems he chose to display. His car featured a license plate decorated with the Confederate flag, according to a law enforcement official and one of Roof’s friends.

Roof also had an apparent affinity for guns. Law enforcement officials said his father had either recently bought him a gun as a present or given him money to buy one.

Roof attended White Knoll High School in the suburbs of Columbia for part of ninth grade, but he left the school in February 2010, school officials said. He finished out the year at another high school in Columbia, officials said, but didn’t return.

Earlier this year, Roof ran into trouble with the law in two incidents at Columbiana Centre, a mall north of Columbia.

In February, according to a police report, he raised suspicion by walking into stores wearing all black and asking workers “out of the ordinary questions.”

The officer who questioned Roof then found strips of Suboxone, a drug for treating opiate addiction, in his jacket pocket. Roof was arrested and charged with felony drug possession and banned from the mall.

In April, Roof was arrested again, this time for trespassing in the mall’s parking lot, according to a police report. He was found guilty of that charge May 27 and fined $262.50, according to court records.

Back in Gaston, even as he described Roof as a quiet young man who kept out of trouble, Cowles shook with anger at the thought that his nephew could have carried out the crime with which he is accused.

“I’d be the executioner myself if they would allow it,” he said.

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