Charleston church sur­vivor re­calls at­tack, calls Roof ‘evil.’

Says she watched son die as she shel­tered grand­daugh­ter


CHARLESTON, S.C. | A sur­vivor of last year’s mas­sacre at a black South Carolina church tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day that her Bi­ble study group had just closed their eyes and started pray­ing when a loud sound shat­tered the still­ness. The base­ment room went dark.

When Feli­cia San­ders opened her eyes, she saw a young white man the parish­ioners had wel­comed to the study only a half-hour ear­lier. Dy­lann Roof was mow­ing down the pas­tor and eight oth­ers with gun­fire and hurl­ing racial in­sults.

Ms. San­ders, the first wit­ness in Mr. Roof’s death penalty trial, fought back tears as she re­called shel­ter­ing her grand­daugh­ter un­der a table and telling her to play dead. She watched in hor­ror as her son Ty­wanza and her 87-year-old aunt, Susie Jack­son, were killed in the fusil­lade.

At one point, she looked across the court­room to­ward Mr. Roof and called him “evil, evil, evil.”

The gun­man had planned the at­tack for months and trav­eled about 100 miles to Charleston on June 17, 2015, to at­tack Em­manuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, the old­est black church in the South, be­cause of what it rep­re­sented, prose­cu­tors said. He told the parish­ioners he was killing them be­cause blacks were rap­ing white women and tak­ing over the coun­try. In a man­i­festo found later, he said he hoped to start a race war.

The at­tor­ney for the 22-year-old all but con­ceded dur­ing open­ing state­ments that Mr. Roof com­mit­ted the slay­ings but sug­gested that he should be spared the death penalty.

One of three sur­vivors, Ms. San­ders said Mr. Roof came by the Wed­nes­day night gath­er­ing and was given a study sheet and a Bi­ble by the Rev. Cle­menta Pinck­ney, the church’s pas­tor and a state se­na­tor.

When she heard the loud noise, she as­sumed some­thing was wrong with the elec­tric­ity. Then she saw the real rea­son.

“I screamed he had a gun,” she said. But by that time, Pinck­ney al­ready had been shot. Soon her son was hit.

“I watched my son come into this word and I watched my son leave this world,” she said be­fore be­com­ing so dis­traught that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel called a re­cess. Sev­eral peo­ple sit­ting among the sur­vivors’ fam­ily mem­bers and sev­eral ju­rors dabbed away tears.

Mr. Roof, wear­ing a striped prison jump­suit, just stared down at the de­fense table, as he did through­out the day.

“He just sits there the whole time. Evil, evil, evil as can be,” Ms. San­ders tes­ti­fied.

In the pros­e­cu­tion’s open­ing state­ment, As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Jay Richard­son said Mr. Roof had a “cold and hate­ful heart.”

“He pulled the trig­ger on that Glock .45 more than 70 times that night. More than 60 times he hit parish­ioners,” the pros­e­cu­tor said.

Be­fore the slay­ings, Mr. Roof had posed in pho­tos with the Con­fed­er­ate flag. The at­tack prompted South Carolina to com­pletely re­move the em­blem from its Capi­tol grounds. Other state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments voted to take down Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments, re­move the flag from parks or re­name govern­ment build­ings hon­or­ing Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers.

If Mr. Roof is con­victed, the case will move to the penalty phase, where he plans to act as his own lawyer to ap­par­ently fight for his life.

A panel of 12 ju­rors, five black ju­rors and one per­son of another race were se­lected, ac­cord­ing to court of­fi­cials who said the al­ter­nates will not be picked un­til the end of the trial.

Mr. Roof’s trial be­gan only days af­ter another one with racial over­tones ended in a mis­trial. Ju­rors could not agree on a ver­dict for for­mer North Charleston po­lice of­fi­cer Michael Slager, who shot a black man in the back as he was run­ning away from a traf­fic stop. A by­stander recorded the shoot­ing, and it was seen widely on TV and on­line.

The church slay­ings took place a lit­tle more than two months af­ter the Slager shoot­ing, and Charleston has stayed mostly calm.

State prose­cu­tors plan to retry Mr. Slager.


Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cers pa­trol the streets out­side the Fed­eral Court­house Wed­nes­day in Charleston, South Carolina, dur­ing Dy­lann Roof’s trial. Mr. Roof is ac­cused of killing nine black peo­ple at a church dur­ing a prayer meet­ing.

Dy­lann Roof’s at­tor­ney all but con­ceded his client com­mit­ted the at­tack, but wanted him spared the death penalty.

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