Church victims' family face Roof in court

2015-06-20 11:03
Dylann Roof, top left, is seen in a video feed appearing before a judge at his bond hearing in Charleston. (David Goldman, AP)

Dylann Roof, top left, is seen in a video feed appearing before a judge at his bond hearing in Charleston. (David Goldman, AP)

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Charleston - Felecia Sanders survived the attack on her Bible study group by pretending to be dead, but lost her son Tywanza.

She came face to face with the alleged shooter on Friday, as she had the night of the slaughter.

"We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms," Sanders told Dylann Storm Roof, who appeared via video conference for a bond hearing.

"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."

"Tywanza was my hero."

Repent for sins

And then Sanders did something remarkable: She forgave the young man who has been charged with nine counts of murder for the bloody attack at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"As we said in Bible Study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you," she said.

Sanders was one of several family members of victims to be given a chance to address the court during Roof's bond hearing. Others also forgave him. They advised him to repent for his sins and asked for God's mercy on his soul. One even told Roof to repent and confess, and "you'll be OK."

Multiple roles

Hours after the bond hearing, thousands of people filled a basketball arena for a community vigil for the victims. Those in attendance were white and black, young and old.

The victims included the Reverend 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, counsellors and choir singers and the elderly sexton who made sure the church was kept clean.

A police affidavit released on Friday accused Roof of shooting all nine multiple times, and making a "racially inflammatory statement" as he stood over an unidentified survivor.

Roof bowed his head slightly during the hearing.  He could hear them talking from jail, but couldn't see them; the camera showed only the judge.

Horrible suffering

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 on Friday, where people built a memorial and thousands attended the vigil to repudiate whatever a gunman would hope to accomplish by attacking one of the nation's most important African-American sanctuaries.

A steady stream of people brought flowers and notes and shared somber thoughts at a growing memorial in front of the church, which President Barack Obama called "a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America."

The Justice Department announced that it was investigating whether it could be a hate crime or domestic terrorism.

Surveillance photos

Roof had complained while getting drunk on vodka recently that "blacks were taking over the world" and that "someone needed to do something about it for the white race," according to Joey Meek, who tipped off the FBI when he saw his friend on surveillance images.

Roof also told him he used birthday money from his parents to buy a .45 Glock pistol before the attack, Meek said. The affidavit said Roof's father and uncle also called authorities after seeing surveillance photos and that the father said Roof owned a .45-caliber gun.

Roof was arrested across the state line and returned in shackles to a county jail where he was being held next to the cell of Michael Slager, the white former police officer charged with murder in the fatal shooting of black motorist Walter Scott in neighbouring North Charleston.

Read more on:    us  |  charleston shooting

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