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.

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