By Emily Flitter and Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) - His uncle worried he was cooped up in his room too much. The few images of him easily found online suggest he had a fascination with white supremacy. And for his birthday this year, his father bought the young man a pistol, the uncle said.
Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of having fatally shot nine people at a historic African-American church in South Carolina on Wednesday.
Those who know him described a withdrawn, troubled young man.
Roof's uncle recalled telling his sister, the suspect's mother, several years ago that he was worried about Roof, and that he was too introverted.
"I said he was like 19 years old, he still didn't have a job, a driver's license or anything like that and he just stayed in his room a lot of the time," Cowles said in a telephone interview.
He said he tried to "mentor" his nephew. "He didn't like that, and me and him kind of drifted apart," Cowles said.
Cowles, 56, said he recognized Roof in a photo released by police as they searched for him in the hours after the massacre, and described him as quiet and soft-spoken. Roof's father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday this year, Cowles said.
"I actually talked to him on the phone briefly for just a few moments and he was saying well I'm outside target practicing with my new gun," Cowles said, describing a phone call around the time of Roof's birthday in April.
"Nobody in my family had seen anything like this coming," Cowles said. "I said, if it is him, and when they catch him, he's got to pay for this."
A Facebook profile apparently belonging to Roof was created earlier this year. The only public photograph on the page is a blurry snap of him stood in front of winter-bare trees, looking glumly at the camera, bowl-cut brown hair falling over his forehead.
He wears a black jacket in the picture that prominently features the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, from when the two African countries were ruled by the white minority.
The page lists him as having a little over 80 Facebook friends on Thursday morning, but that number appeared to be dropping, perhaps as others chose to sever their online ties with him.
One of the friends, Derrick "D-Gutta" Pearson, wrote on his own Facebook page on Thursday morning that he was "wondering why I woke up to 15 friend requests," adding that he didn't know where Roof was.
Pearson warned people to stay away from Roof if they saw him, writing that it was "obvious lives do not matter to him." Pearson also published a photo that appeared to show Roof sitting on the hood of a black car with a license plate that says "Confederate States of America", a reference to the pro-slavery forces from the U.S. Civil War.
"That's his car and him," Pearson wrote.
The U.S. Department of Justice said federal authorities would investigate Wednesday's attack as a hate crime, or one motivated by racism.
A woman who answered the cellphone of the suspect's mother Amelia Roof, also known as Amy, declined to comment on Thursday morning.
"We will be doing no interviews ever," she said, before hanging up.
(Reporting by Emily Flitter; Additional reporting by Alana Wise and David Gaffen; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)