KINGS MOUNTAIN, N.C. (AP) — Debbie Dills thought the black Hyundai next to her at a stoplight looked familiar — it had a South Carolina tag and a white decal on the front. Her heart raced when she saw the driver, the bowlcut-wearing white man who authorities say killed nine people in a black church in Charleston.
Police say her quick thinking helped bring 21-year-old Dylann Roof into custody after an intense, nearly daylong manhunt.
She called it a matter of “divine intervention.”
Dills was running late on her way to work in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, when she noticed the car at a stoplight on Highway 74. The news reports from the night before hit home for Dills, a part-time minister of music at a Baptist church, and left her devastated on the way to work. She said she sang religious hymns and prayed for the victims along the way.
The car looked familiar. “At first I thought, nah, it couldn’t be,” Dills said. “I didn’t want to overreact.”
But after she looked into the car and saw the driver, she began to get increasingly nervous.
She quickly pulled off the main highway and called her friend and boss, Todd Frady, asking what to do.
Frady didn’t hesitate, grabbing a second phone and calling a friend who worked for the Kings Mountain Police Department on his personal cellphone. Frady said that officer, who police identified as Shane Davis, contacted the Shelby Police Department.
“She just had a gut feeling that something just wasn’t right,” Frady said.
Instinct kicked in. Dills pulled back on to the highway and sped up to catch up with the suspect, this time getting a license plate number. She followed the car for about 2 more miles into Shelby while police confirmed that was the car they were looking for.
That’s when Dills said police pulled over the suspect near an Ingles grocery store along the four-lane highway in Shelby.
“I’m going to go ahead and tell you, I was scared,” Dills said. “I told Todd, if (the suspect) gets out of this car and starts shooting, you tell my family I’m gone (to heaven). I know where I’m going.”
Jerry Tessneer, a patrol captain with Kings Mountain Police Department, confirmed that Dills was the tipster who helped capture the suspect.
After the ordeal, Dills went to work at Frady’s Florists in Kings Mountain, where she was besieged by visitors.
Many of them called her a hero, a notion she quickly disputed.
“Make no mistake about it, I am not the hero here — God is the hero,” Dills said. “People can believe that or not. He showed up here in Shelby, North Carolina.”
Dills said she believes God put her in the right place at the right time.
“My heart went out to those people,” Dills said. “I was at church last night, too. It easily could have been me.”
Associated Press reporter Emily Masters in Shelby, North Carolina, contributed to this report.