Victims’ Families Forgive Dylann Roof at Hearing

Vigil Held For Victims Of Charleston Church Shooting
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Dylann Roof, who is suspected of fatally shooting nine people inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was charged with nine counts of murder and one charge of weapon possession during the commission of a violent crime.

Roof attended his bond hearing by video conference on Friday afternoon. Magistrate James Gosnell was blocked by law from setting bond on the suspect’s nine murder charges; bond on his one weapon-possession charge was set at $1 million. During the hearing, the familiy members of the nine victims addressed Roof. It was an emotionally draining moment. Roof’s face remained empty the whole time, and he avoided looking at the camera.

The daughter of Ethel Lance told Roof, “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” Felicia Sanders, one of the shooting survivors, told Roof, “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms … every fiber in my body hurts … But as we said at Bible study … may God have mercy on you.” 

Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live and love. So hate won’t win and I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”

Photo: David Goldman/AP/Corbis

Roof was captured at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, on Thursday. He was transported back to Charleston by plane on Thursday night and is being held in the Al Cannon Detention Center. Roof is on suicide watch and being kept in isolation from other prisoners.

I am so pleased that we were able to resolve this case quickly,” Charleston police chief Greg Mullen said at a press conference, “so that nobody else is harmed by this individual.”

Governor Nikki Haley told NBC on Friday morning that Roof should face the death penalty. “This is the worst hate that I’ve seen — and that the country has seen — in a long time,” she said. “We will fight this, and we will fight this as hard as we can.” Mayor Joe Riley said that he does not personally support the death penalty, thinking that it  “collectively, over time, adds to the violence.” However, he added, he has no control over the outcome of the case.

The Washington Post reports that South Carolina is “tied with North Carolina for the ninth-most executions since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.”

The shooting took place around 9 p.m. during a prayer meeting at the historic African-American church on Wednesday night. Roof reportedly sat through the meeting for an hour, saying nothing, then stood and pulled a gun. Kristen Washington, a relative of the survivors, told the New York Times that Tywanza Sanders, 26, tried to talk him down, saying, “You don’t have to do this.” The gunman answered, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

Roof reportedly told police officers that he said, “You all are taking over our country. Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.”

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

When the gunman aimed at 87-year-old Susie Jackson, Sanders’s aunt, the young man told him to point the gun at him instead. The shooter replied, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to shoot all of you.” Sanders dived in front of his aunt and was the first person shot. Sanders’s mother, Felicia, and his niece were the only survivors. Authorities say that Roof said “a racially inflammatory statement” before leaving the church.

Roof is a 21-year-old from the Columbia area who was recently arrested on tresspassing and drug possession charges. NBC News reported on Friday that Roof confessed to the murders. He also reportedly told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”

Roof was identified as a suspect after his father and uncle called authorities, recognizing the face and car being shown on surveillance footage, according to court affidavits

Police were able to capture Roof thanks to the sharp eyes of Debbie Dills, who works at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. She saw a black car that looked like the one on TV on her way to work, according to the Shelby Star, and she called her boss to find out what to do. Todd Frady then called the police, and Dills followed Roof’s car until the police came.

On Thursday afternoon, Obama offered a few brief remarks on the tragedy at the White House, noting that the shooting stirs memories of a “dark part of our history.” “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times … At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other developed countries.”

State senator Clementa Pinckney, the church’s 41-year-old pastor, was killed in the attack. “He was called to the ministry when he was 13, ordained at 18, elected to the House at 23 and the Senate at 27,” said J. Todd Rutherford, the minority leader of the state House of Representatives. “He was a man driven by public service.” He had been the youngest person to ever join the South Carolina State House and the youngest African-American to ever become a South Carolina State senator. After the fatal shooting of Walter Scott earlier this year, he had been one of the loudest voices calling for legislation to mandate body cameras. 

Pinckney’s colleagues in the state legislature have been quick to praise the man and call for justice. Rutherford told a local news station, “Senator Pinckney was just such a great guy. Couldn’t get him to pick a fight with anybody. Not even politically.”

Republican state senator Larry Grooms, who served with Pinckney for 15 years, told a local TV station, according to Talking Points Memo, “He was my colleague but he was also my brother in Christ, and the news of his death and the deaths of the others, made me physically ill. … The first thing we do, we’ve got to find this jackass and bring him to justice. It’s evil. He is evil.”

The eight other victims have been publicly identified. The youngest victim was only 26; the oldest, 87. Charleston County Public Library closed all 16 of its branches for Cynthia Hurd, who worked with the library for 31 years. Tywanza Sanders graduated from Allen University last year, with a degree in business administration. The university’s interim president, Lady June Cole, said, “He was a quiet, well known student who was committed to his education. He presented a warm and helpful spirit as he interacted with his colleagues.” Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was a speech therapist, a pastor at Emanuel AME Church, and a girls’ track coach.

Ethel Lance and her cousin Susie Jackson had been members of the church for decades. Lance had worked at Emanuel AME for 30 years. Depayne Middleton-Doctor was a minister at Emanuel AME. Retired pastor Reverend Daniel L. Simmons Sr. died at the hospital. Myra Thompson, whose husband, Reverend Anthony Thompson, is the vicar at Holy Trinity REC, also died.

The Justice Department has officially launched a federal hate-crime investigation into the shooting as well. Federal hate-crime cases are rare; according to The Wall Street Journal, “In the more than 433,000 federal cases sentenced during the Obama administration, just 179 have included the hate-crimes statute, a lower percentage than during the George W. Bush administration.” ThinkProgress notes that South Carolina is one of only five states that does not have a hate-crime law.

According to the FBI, 67 percent of single-bias hate crimes in 2013 were motivated by anti-black biases. 

Acts like this have no place in our county and no place in a civilized society,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a Thursday press conference. “I want everyone in Charleston and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy to know that we will do everything in our power to help heal this community and make it whole again.”

On Friday, a Justice Department spokesperson said, “This heartbreaking episode was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism.”

The United States and South Carolina flags above the state capitol will be flown at half mast for nine days. In front of the capitol, a Confederate flag remains at its usual height. Governor Nikki Haley’s spokesperson told ABC News, “In South Carolina, the governor does not have legal authority to alter the flag. Only the General Assembly can do that.” At a debate last year, Haley said, when asked about the flag, “I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag … We really kinda fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African-American U.S. senator.”

Representative Mark Sanford said that removing the Confederate flag “should not be the immediate solution” on Morning Joe this Friday. “I don’t know. I mean, that’s opening up Pandora’s box.”

The Emanuel AME Church is home to “the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland,” according to the National Parks Service website. The church was founded in 1816 when black worshippers withdrew from Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church and established a new congregation, becoming the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. At various points in the church’s early history, congregants were persecuted and forced to meet in secret when local laws banned black people from gathering to worship.

Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822, but the authorities learned of the plot. Vesey was executed for his role in the uprising, and around that time the AME church was burned down. (It was later rebuilt, and the current structure dates back to 1891.) This week marks the 193th anniversary of the planned slave revolt.

In 2013, Pinckney reflected on the church’s mission, drawing on its long and rich history. 

Could we not argue that America is about freedom whether we live it out or not? Freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness. And that is what church is all about: freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be full of what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you got to make noise to do that. Sometimes you may have to die like Denmark Vesey to do that. Sometimes you have to march, struggle and be unpopular to do that.”

Charleston residents filled up the Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church on Thursday for a prayer vigil. 

The city of Charleston will hold a prayer vigil to honor the victims at 9 p.m. on Friday.

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.