t is the ultimate of ironies ... and paradoxes. As relatives of those gunned down by Dylann Roof at a South Carolina church in the US this week spoke about how they had forgiven him, his own family condemned him and called for him to be put to death. “You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, at Roof’s first court appearance on Friday.
“I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
Roof (21) was charged on Friday with nine counts of murder and one of criminal possession of a firearm.
He shot and killed nine black people during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday night in an allegedly racially motivated massacre that stunned the US. He was arrested on Thursday.
“We welcomed you on Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders, the mother of Tywanza Sanders (26), a poet who died trying to save his aunt, who was also killed. “You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fibre in my body hurts, and I will never be the same ... But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.”
But Roof’s uncle, Carson Cowles, told ABC’s Good Morning America that his nephew should die if he was found guilty.
“If he’s found guilty, I’ll be the one to push the button myself,” he said. “If what I am hearing is true, he needs to pay for it.”
It emerged yesterday that Roof grew up in a fractured home where his “violent” father beat his stepmother.
The Daily Mail reported that Roof’s life began going off the rails when he was 15 – after his father separated from his stepmother, the main anchor in his life.
His father, Franklin Bennett Roof, was travelling for four days a week with his construction company.
Roof began skipping classes, did not finish high school and was unemployed – living “on and off” with his father. He allegedly spent his days taking drugs and playing video games.
Meanwhile, Christon Scriven, a black drinking buddy of Roof’s, said Roof told him a week earlier that he planned to shoot up a college campus in the city.
On Friday, Scriven said he thought Roof’s statements were just drunken bluster. Still, Scriven said he was concerned enough that he and another friend, Joey Meek, went to Roof’s car and retrieved his .45 calibre handgun and hid it in an air-conditioning vent until they all sobered up.
“He just said he was going to hurt a bunch of people” at the College of Charleston, said Scriven.
“I said: ‘What did you say? Why do you want to hurt those people in Charleston?’” “He just said: ‘In seven days ... I have seven days.’” The exchange recounted by Scriven matches accounts from other friends of Roof’s who were interviewed by AP.
They described him as a troubled and confused young man who alternated between partying with black friends and ranting against blacks to his white friends.
Four months before the shooting rampage, court records show Roof was arrested at a shopping mall on a misdemeanour drug charge after going around dressed all in black, asking suspicious questions about when stores closed and what time employees left for the night.
He was later arrested again, this time for trespassing at the mall, despite being banned from the premises.
On his Facebook profile, Roof posted a photo of himself wearing a jacket adorned with the flags of the old South Africa and Rhodesia, yet he also counted several black people among his online social connections.
Scriven lives next door to Meek in a trailer park, where residents say Roof was a frequent visitor in recent months.
In an interview with AP on Thursday, Meek recounted how Roof had complained while getting drunk on vodka that “blacks were taking over the world” and that “someone needed to do something about it for the white race”.
Conversely, Scriven said he and Roof never talked about race.
He said Roof confided that he was unhappy, bouncing between the homes of his divorced parents.
Scriven said he could tell Roof was depressed and that he complained that he wasn’t getting the love and emotional support he needed from his parents.
On Friday, the Charleston police department released new details about the massacre.
“All the victims were hit multiple times,” it wrote in the arrest warrant. “The gunman walked in wearing a [bumbag] and sat with the group talking scripture for nearly an hour before he drew a gun and began firing.” On his way out, he stood over a surviving witness “and uttered a racially inflammatory statement”.
However, as Roof is now discovering, love does appear to be stronger than hate.
At a prayer vigil attended by thousands of black and white people on Friday night, Charleston mayor Joe Riley vowed: “If that young man thought he was going to divide this country ... he miserably failed. Let’s keep these nine people and their families in our prayers and never forget them.”
TROUBLED Dylann Roof appears by closedcircuit TV at his bail hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday