KINGS MOUNTAIN — Thursday started out like any other day for Debbie Dills, except she was a “little late” coming into work at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain.
However, that “little late” led to an act of pure heroism.
Dills, of Gastonia, and her boss, Todd Frady, made the initial calls around 10:35 a.m. that led to the arrest of Dylann Roof in Shelby by the Shelby Police Department.
Roof is suspected of killing nine people, including pastor and S.C. state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, during a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday night.
Dills, driving from her home in south Gastonia into work, first spotted Roof on U.S. 74 near Sparrow Springs Road in Gastonia, then shortly after, called Frady to ask his advice.
Frady said he then made a call to Officer Shane Davis of the Kings Mountain Police Department, who relayed to Shelby Police that the suspect’s black Hyundai Elantra was traveling west on Highway 74.
“I saw the news coverage last night and the picture of the car. I knew it was a black car, and it had a tag on the front. I saw the pictures of him with the bowl cut,” Dills said through tears. “I said, ‘I’ve seen that car for some reason. I look over, and it’s got a South Carolina tag on it. I thought, ‘Nah, that’s not his car.’ Then, I got closer and saw that haircut. I was nervous. I had the worst feeling. Is that him or not him?
“I had been praying for those people on my way to work. I was in the right place at the right time that the Lord puts you.”
Frady, who had Dills and Davis on two separate phones, acted as the intermediary.
“She called me when she was at the exit for Kings Mountain on Highway 74,” Frady said. “I called Shane Davis, then he called Shelby PD.”
According to Frady and his conversation with Davis, Shelby PD had officers near the Shelby Ingles location on westbound U.S. 74/West Dixon Boulevard and Polkville Road. Just 20 short minutes after Dills’ initial call to her boss, Shelby police pulled Roof over near Plato Lee Road.
After first spotting Roof’s car in south Gastonia, Dills said she followed Roof’s car to the Kings Mountain exit on the 74 bypass, then exited to head to work at the florist shop in downtown Kings Mountain. Something didn’t feel right to her, so she made a quick right turn onto King Street, headed back to the bypass and traveled west to attempt to catch up to Roof to provide more details.
“What if that really was him?’ she thought. “I have friends going to the mountains this weekend, so if it that was him and something would happen again, what would I do? It kept eating at me and something told me to keep following him.”
She caught up with Roof’s Hyundai, again, near the Walmart in Shelby and continued to follow him, while she stayed on the phone with Frady. Dills saw Shelby police begin to follow Roof at the Ingles on 74 and Polkville Road. She stayed behind, then knowing the situation was under control, she made a U-turn at Cleveland Funeral Services, but seemed to still want to see the process all the way to the end.
When she U-turned, again, she saw flashing blue lights and Shelby police officers lining the side of West Dixon Boulevard with Roof pulled over and apprehended. The distance of her heroic ride covered about 35 miles.
Dills said, the whole way, Roof never increased his speed.
“He wasn’t doing anything abnormal,” she said. “He wasn’t driving slow, he was just driving. He just kept going.”
Dills, the minister of music at West Cramerton Baptist Church, said she had been praying for the victims in Charleston since the news broke last night.
“I was in church last night myself. I had seen the news coverage before I went to bed and started praying for those families down there,” she said. “I started praying for those families down there. Those people were in their church just trying to learn the word of God and trying to serve. When I saw a picture of that pastor this morning (Pinckney), my heart just sank.”
By Thursday afternoon, some of her tears were mixed with smiles, especially proud of the job of the local officers involved in Roof’s arrest.
“Them boys (the officers) knocked it down. They were on it,” Dills said. “Just after the arrest, three of them from Kings Mountain were standing right over there. Thanking me and shaking my hand.”
Gabe Whisnant is news editor of The Star in Shelby.