Charleston church victims’ families forgive suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, in court
Relatives of the nine people shot down during a Bible study session inside their historic black church confronted Dylann Storm Roof on Friday during his initial hearing. They described their pain and anger, but also spoke of love.
The 21-year-old suspect was ordered held until a bond is set on murder charges. He appeared by video from the county jail, looking somber in a striped jumpsuit and speaking only briefly in response to the judge’s questions.
“I f orgive you, my f amily forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson, whose relative Myra Thompson was killed. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. ... Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”
The victims included the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who doubled as the church’s lead pastor, and eight others who played multiple roles in their families and communities: ministers and coaches, teachers and a librarian, counselors and choir singers and the elderly sexton who made sure the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was kept clean.
A police affidavit released Friday accused Roof of shooting all nine multiple times, and making a “racially inflammatory statement” as he stood over an un- named survivor.
The families are determined not to respond in kind, said Alana Simmons, who lost her grandfather, the Rev. Daniel Simmons.
‘They lived in love and their
legacies will live in love’
“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof — everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love, so hate won’t win,” she said. “And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”
Felecia Sanders survived the Wednesday night attack by pretending to be dead, but lost her son Tywanza. She also spoke from Chief Magistrate James Gosnell’s courtroom, where Roof’s image appeared on a television screen. It is not unusual in South Carolina for the families of victims to be given a chance to address the court during a bond hearing.
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts ... and I’ll never be the same,” Sanders told Roof.
“Tywanza was my hero,” Sanders added, but then even she showed some kindness to the man accused of killing her son: “As we said in Bible Study, we enjoyed you but may God have mercy on you.”
Roof bowed his head slightly. From the jail, he could hear them talking, but couldn’t see them; the camera showed only the judge.
“Charleston is a very strong community. We have big hearts. We’re a very loving community,” said Gosnell, who urged people to find it in their hearts to help not only the nine victims, but “victims on the young man’s side of the family” as well.
Roof’s public defender released a statement from his family offering prayers and sympathy for the victims, and expressing “shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night.”
“We have all been touched by the moving words from the victims’ families offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering,” the statement said.
The comments in court seemed in keeping with a spirit evident on the streets of Charleston Friday, where people built a memorial and planned a vigil to repudiate whatever a gunman would hope to accomplish by attacking one of the nation’s most important African-American sanctuaries. “A hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea he’d be able to divide, but all he did was unite us and make us love each other even more,” Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said as he described plans for the evening vigil at a sports arena.
1. Dylann Storm Roof appears via video before a judge, in Charleston, South Carolina, Friday, June 19. 2. Barbara Lloyd, of Charleston, cries as she joins hands with mourners during the singing of “We Shall Overcome” at a memorial service for the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Friday. 3. J. Denise Cromwell, left, hugs her daughter, Asia Cromwell, center, and a friend Sandy Teckledburg outside the Emanuel AME Church, after a memorial in Charleston, Friday.