Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah describes SC church shooter Dylann Roof in incredibly detailed and visual language: A burgeoning bald patch "almost made him look like a young, demented monk with a tonsure"; when he spoke in court it "sounded like his mouth was full of Karo syrup." But in her lengthy piece for GQ, the goal is to go beyond the exterior and get at something much deeper. She had come to Charleston, she writes, to profile the victims, living and dead. But as they and their family members took the stand in that South Carolina courtroom, she found herself transfixed by "the magnitude of Dylann Roof's silence, his refusal to even look up, to ever explain why he did what he had done." He refused to offer an explanation, so Ghansah decided she would do what he would not: tell his story. She ends up discovering a larger one.
The quest took her to his native Columbia, SC, where Roof's father repeated the same line: that he just didn't understand. Ghansah meets with Roof's pastor and his one childhood black friend, and she digs into Roof's ancestry, making one surprise find. She uncovers a young man "whose laziness was legend" and recounts a retired psychologist's attempt to pay Roof to watch TED Talks to expand his worldview (the two connected after he spotted a racist Craigslist ad Roof posted). An excerpt of Roof's refusal of the psychologist's offer: "I have no friends even though I am cool. I am going back to sleep." A director with the Southern Poverty Law Center explains why Roof "is rather unlike your typical white-supremacist killer," and Ghansah explains why, two years later, that's no longer the case. But she also learns "how we resist. How we rise." Full story here. (Read more Longform stories.)