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GQ: Among the friends he reconnected with that summer was Joseph “Joey” Meek, who knew Dylann in middle school. Meek, a young white man with bloated chipmunk cheeks, had a serious marijuana habit and a permissive mother who had been asked by Amy years before to encourage the boys’ friendship. When Roof found him again, Joey was living in a rented trailer in the unincorporated area outside Columbia with his mother, his girlfriend, Lindsay Fry, and his two younger brothers, Justin and Jacob. As the summer passed, Dylann would start to crash there at times. Later, Joey would do a flurry of interviews in which he described his friendship with Roof and explained why having a friend he hadn’t seen in years stay in an already crowded trailer wasn’t at all strange. He was just that kind of person, who helped people who were down and out.

The Meeks’ rented trailer is tucked away in a circle of mobile homes that are not mobile at all. Instead, they look very lived-in, bolted down to the rough times and the twists of fate that landed their owners there. It was drizzling when I pulled into the Hideaway Park development, and a man whose face I could not see stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed in an oversize hoodie and was carrying a small pit-bull puppy in his arms. He walked out toward the road without saying a word to me, even when I asked him if he knew the Meeks. Out front, there was a child’s play kitchen with a sink full of stagnant, reedy water and a white car whose whole front had been sideswiped and deeply dented.

During the time he stayed there, Roof would often drive Meek and his friends to swimming holes, but then he would leave because he complained that his body could not bear the South Carolinian heat. Even in the trailer, Roof kept to himself. Meek’s mother noticed that at times Roof would get agitated and retreat to his car, where he would blast classical music and opera to quiet his nerves. But what had made him so upset remained unknown.

In most of Roof’s friends’ accounts, there is one indisputable fact: That summer, they all did a lot of drinking and a lot of pot smoking. Roof had already been arrested the year before for possession of a Schedule III controlled narcotic. He was stalking employees at the Columbiana Centre Mall and asking them “out of the ordinary questions.” When police responded to a call, they searched him and found a “small unlabeled white bottle containing multiple orange in color square strips.” Suboxone is typically used to wean opioid addicts off their dependence, but it can also give non-addicts a sense of euphoria, coupled with intense nausea.

In his jailhouse journal, Dylann wrote: “I don’t like it when people try to read into things, or try to find, or create meaning that isn’t there. I don’t like it when people put so much weight on the things I say. Sometimes, more now than before the incident, I feel that the people I talk to hang on my words as if they were all important or offer some sort of insight into my being. But this isn’t the case; it never is with anyone. For example, I stated before I never used drugs to ‘drown the pain,’ or ‘self medicate.’ I used drugs because they get you high. There is no deeper meaning behind this. There is no deeper meaning behind any of my behavior.”

One person who spent time in the trailer park with Roof agreed to talk with me on the condition that I didn’t name them. When I asked what was most memorable about Roof, the answer came quickly: “He was quiet, uncomfortably quiet, strangely quiet. I mean really strange.” But in this wasteland, with this group of listless friends, Roof could talk about shooting up a college, brandish his gun, use racist slurs, all without being considered outlandish. These instances evaporated into their ears as liquored-up loose talk. To this day, Roof’s friends seem to have a striking inability to process the gravity of what he did. They have said things like: “He would talk about killing people, but none of us took him seriously.” MORE