Church massacre suspect faces families of dead

Photographs of the nine victims killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, are held up during a prayer vigil at the Metropolitan AME Church on Friday in Washington, DC.
Photographs of the nine victims killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, are held up during a prayer vigil at the Metropolitan AME Church on Friday in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP
Suspect Dylann Roof appears via video link at a bond hearing in court in North Charleston, South Carolina. The judge set Roof's bail at US$1 million.
Suspect Dylann Roof appears via video link at a bond hearing in court in North Charleston, South Carolina. The judge set Roof's bail at US$1 million.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But victims' relatives respond - not with hate or vengeance - but with forgiveness

Charleston - One by one they looked to the screen in a corner of the courtroom, into the expressionless face of the young man charged with making them motherless, snuffing out the life of a promising son, taking away a loving wife for good, bringing a grandmother's life to a horrific end. And they answered him with - forgiveness.

"You took something very precious away from me," said Ms Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish. "I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you."

The occasion was a bond hearing on Friday, the first court appearance of the suspect, Dylann Roof, for the murders, thought to be racially motivated, of nine black men and women during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night.

Mercy

"You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.

MS NADINE COLLIER, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, who was killed in the shooting

It was as if the Bible study had never ended, as victims' family members offered lessons in forgiveness.

"Every fibre in my body hurts and I will never be the same. But may God have mercy on you," said Mrs Felicia Sanders, the mother of 26-year old Tywanza Sanders, a poet who died after trying to save his aunt, who was also killed.

The statements offered a moment of grace on a day when new details emerged about a massacre that has stunned the nation.

"All the victims were hit multiple times," the Charleston Police Department wrote in an arrest warrant released on Friday. The gunman walked in wearing a fanny pack, and sat with the group talking Scripture for nearly an hour before he began firing. On his way out, he stood over a surviving witness "and uttered a racially inflammatory statement", the warrant said.

After the police released security camera images of the suspect outside the church, Roof's father and an uncle contacted police and positively identified the defendant and his vehicle.

"Defendant's father told investigators that his son owns a .45-calibre handgun," police said, the same calibre shell casings that the police recovered from the church floor.

Roof, 21, who is white, was charged with nine counts of murder, punishable by death, and one count of criminal possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. The judge set bail at US$1 million (S$1.34 million) on the gun charge, but explained he did not have the authority to set bail on the murder charges, which would be handled by the state's Circuit Court. The defendant watched impassively on a video link from a nearby jail.

Law enforcement officials said that after Roof was arrested on Thursday, he told investigators he had just done something big in Charleston, and the pistol believed to have been used in the shooting was recovered from his car.

Mr Joseph Meek, a friend of Roof's, said that the suspect's parents each gave him US$350 towards the purchase of the gun, which he bought this spring, and that at some point, they took the weapon away from him. There have been reports that Roof's parents gave him the gun directly, as a 21st birthday present, but Mr Meek said Roof made a point of buying it himself so that his parents would not be implicated in any trouble he might get into.

Friends said Roof voiced virulently racist views and had talked recently about starting a new civil war - even about shooting black people. His neighbour Christon Scriven said the suspect also recently talked about attacking a college campus, but may have changed his plans after deciding it was a harder target to access, the Washington Post and NBC News reported.

South Caroline Governor Nikki R. Haley was one of many officials to label the shootings a hate crime, and called for the death penalty in the case.

The Justice Department, which was already looking into the possibility of a hate crime prosecution, said that it had not ruled out the possibility of calling the case an act of domestic terrorism.

Meanwhile, thousands of Charleston residents filled an arena on Friday for an inter-faith evening prayer vigil. Mayor Joseph Riley Jr said the arrest of Roof was crucial to helping the city heal.

"We are in a period of loving and healing for all of those who have been so terribly injured," he said, adding that it was time for a dialogue about race.

"We in America were not taught African-American history," he said. "It was never in the history books, and we don't know the story."

New York Times, Reuters

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Church massacre suspect faces families of dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe