Families of South Carolina church massacre victims offer forgiveness – Reuters

CHARLESTON, S.C. Relatives of some of the nine black people gunned down while they studied the Bible at a historic South Carolina church offered tearful words of forgiveness on Friday to the 21-year-old white man charged with murdering their loved ones.

Dylann Roof, who sat for an hour with parishioners at the nearly 200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Church before opening fire, stood quietly as he appeared in court via a video feed.

Dressed in a black-and-white prison uniform and flanked by two guards in body armor, Roof had no reaction as a judge ordered him held without bail.

“May God have mercy on your soul,” said Felicia Sanders, whose 26-year-old son, Tywanza Sanders, was the youngest person to die in Wednesday’s rampage. “You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts.”

Roof looked down occasionally and showed no emotion as Sanders and four other family members spoke of how he had been welcomed to the church by the nine people he has been charged with murdering.

The attack at the church nicknamed “Mother Emanuel” for its key role in African-American history came in a year that has seen waves of protest across the United States over police killings of unarmed black men in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, which have sparked some of the largest race riots since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

This latest in a series of mass shootings that have rocked the United States also illustrated some of the risks posed by the nation’s liberal gun laws, which gun-rights supporters say are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The elephant in the room is guns. South Carolina and the country have gone gun-crazy,” said state Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat who represents Charleston. “How many times do we need to come together? How many times do we need to unite?”

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the attack as both a hate crime and potential act of terrorism, spokeswoman Emily Pierce said on Friday.


The family members filed into the courthouse in twos and threes before Roof’s appearance, appearing composed as they stared at the defendant, who was caught after 14 hours on the run.

The massacre’s victims included Democratic state Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Myra Thompson 59, and Daniel Simmons, 74, in addition to Sanders.

Roof could be sentenced to death if he is convicted and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, urged prosecutors to seek capital punishment.

Still, family members offered words of mercy during the brief court appearance.

“I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said Bethane Middleton Brown, who said her slain sister, Middleton Doctor, would have urged love.

“She taught me that we are the family that love built,” Middleton Brown said. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.”


From U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said the attack stirred memories of “a dark past,” to residents on the streets of Charleston, Americans have expressed outrage at an act intended to provoke a “race war” in the United States.

“This was not merely a mass shooting, not merely a matter of gun violence, this was a racial hate crime and must be confronted as such,” said Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 to confront lynchings in the United States.

Brooks expressed anger that the South Carolina capitol continued to fly the Confederate battle flag, a symbol of the pro-slavery South during the U.S. Civil War, and called for it to be removed.

After the shooting, Roof made a “racially inflammatory” statement to one of the three people who survived the attack, according to court papers filed on Friday.

In downtown Charleston, passersby continued to flock to the AME church that remained a crime scene, many struggling to understand what motivated the attack.

The AME church was founded in the early 19th century by black worshippers who were limited in how they could practice their faith at white-dominated churches. The church was rebuilt after being burned down in the late 1820s when one of its founders drafted plans for a slave revolt.

“I grew up when racism was just a way of life,” said Mary Meynardie, 90, who is white, as she stopped by the police tape that still surrounded the church. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was somebody 60, 70 years old who had that much hate, but where does this hate come from?”

(Additional reporting by Luciana Lopez and Brian Snyder in Charleston, South Carolina, Katie Reilly in New York, Lindsay Dunsmir in Washington and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)


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