SHELBY, N.C. — Debbie Dills was running behind Thursday on her way into work at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain.
It was God’s way of putting her in the right place at the right time, the Gastonia woman said.
Dills and her boss, Todd Frady, made the initial calls around 10:35 a.m. that led to the arrest of suspected Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof in Shelby.
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.
She wasn’t sure at first why she recognized the car.
“I saw the pictures of him with the bowl cut. I said, ‘I’ve seen that car for some reason.’ I look over, and it’s got a South Carolina tag on it,” Dills said Thursday afternoon. “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?”
She called Frady to ask his advice.
Frady said he 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 the highway.
“I had been praying for those people on my way to work,” Dills said. “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, the Shelby Police Department had officers near the Shelby Ingles on westbound U.S. 74, or West Dixon Boulevard and Polkville Road. Twenty short minutes after Dills’ initial call to her boss, Shelby officers pulled Roof over near Plato Lee Road.
After first spotting Roof’s car in south Gastonia, Dills said, she followed him to the Kings Mountain exit on the U.S. 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 headed back to the bypass and drove 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 to Roof’s Hyundai again near East Dixon Boulevard in Shelby and continued to follow him. She stayed on the phone with Frady. Dills saw Shelby Police officers begin to follow Roof at the Ingles on 74 and Polkville Road and at first stayed behind, knowing the situation was under control.
But Dills wanted to see things through.
When she caught back up with police, Roof was pulled over and apprehended. She had followed the wanted man for 35 miles.
Dills said Roof never increased his speed as he drove down the highway.
“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. “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, my heart just sank.”
By Thursday afternoon, some of her tears were mixed with smiles. She was especially proud of the job done by local officers involved in Roof’s arrest.
“Them boys 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.”