One by one, the family members of slain Emanuel AME Church members faced their loved ones’ suspected killer head on and rather than condemning him, they offered their forgiveness.
As the relatives spoke out during 21-year-old Dylann Roof’s initial bond hearing Friday, they expressed hope for his redemption and promised to pray for his soul through a tearful round of family statements.
“I forgive you. My family forgives you,” Anthony Thompson said to Roof, who less than 48 hours earlier is believed to have entered the historic downtown Charleston church and opened fire on a group of church members – killing nine – after sitting with the congregants for more than hour during a prayer meeting and Bible study.
“We would like you to take this opportunity to repent,” said Thompson, who was representing the family of Myra Thompson, one of Wednesday’s shooting victims.
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Roof appeared at the hearing by video, wearing a jail jumpsuit and handcuffs and flanked by two officers. He stared straight ahead as five victims’ family members gave statements, some of them noting that “hate won’t win.”
And while the accused man showed no reaction, each speaker followed the same theme of forgiveness, expressing hope for his ultimate redemption.
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” said Felecia Sanders, the mother of another victim, Tywanza Sanders. “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 . . . But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”
Roof’s appearance in magistrate’s court was for a weapons charge, one of several he faces in addition to nine counts of murder. Charleston County Magistrate James B. Gosnell set a $1 million bond on that charge but did not have the authority to set bond on the murder counts. That will be left up to a circuit judge at a later date.
The judge set the bond with the understanding that Roof will be held until a separate bond hearing on the murder charges.
Roof spoke only to answer questions. Asked his age, he told the judge he was 21, said that he was unemployed and confirmed that his address was on Garners Ferry Road in Richland County.
Around the state, many watched the hearing on television or various online news feeds. Some expressed admiration at how the family members had responded.
“I was brought to tears by the outpouring of love and forgiveness by the family members of the slain Emanuel church members,” said Susan Truett Hovermale of Mount Pleasant, just outside of Charleston. “Though he (Roof) showed no outward emotion, I am hoping that what the family members said to him will register somewhere in his soul.”
But some, including those in the national news media, were puzzled by some of Judge Gosnell’s introductory remarks.
“We have victims, nine of them. But we also have victims on the other side,” Gosnell told those present. “There are victims on this young man’s side of the family. Nobody would have ever thrown them into the whirlwind of events that they have been thrown into. We must find it in our heart, at some point in time, not only to help those that are victims but to also help his family as well.”
Columbia attorney Eric Ruschky, who served as a federal prosecutor for 30 years, said such an admonition was not normal in his experiences and challenged that thinking.
“Philosophically, I have a problem with calling the defendant’s family victims,” Ruschky said. “I think that clouds the issue. I understand the defendant’s family has concerns and issues to deal with, but they are not victims. To call them victims, in my opinion, dilutes the status of the true victim.”
“Technically, there are nine victims, and they are deceased,” he added.
For their part, family members of those killed expressed the hope that Roof eventually will let go of his own hatred and one day understand the pain he has brought them.
“Repent. Confess,” Anthony Thompson said. “Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you’ll be OK.”
The Associated Press contributed.
SHOOTER: ‘EVERYONE WAS SO NICE.’ While confessing to killing nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, Dylann Storm Roof told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice” to him, NBC News is reporting.
Roof also told investigators he wanted to start a race war, according to CNN. CNN reported, too, that Roof asked for “the pastor” when he arrived at the church, according to survivors said.
Roof talked freely to officers after he was captured in Shelby, N.C., sources told The Charlotte Observer, although no official statements have been released.
The Washington Post reported that Roof was arrested 3 miles from the home of his sister’s fiance, Michael Tyo. Roof’s sister, Amber, was due to be married last Sunday in South Carolina, according to theknot.com, a wedding website. It’s unclear if that happened.
Tyo, a recruiter for the U.S. Army Reserve, declined to comment Thursday to the Post while packing up his children and the family dog to leave the apartment. There was no answer there Friday.
It’s not known whether Roof stopped by Tyo’s home before he was arrested.
GUN CONTROL. President Barack Obama said Friday it’s not sufficient simply to grieve over the South Carolina church shootings.
Obama is making a vigorous new call for gun control after the shooting deaths.
He said some have misinterpreted his comments at the White House Thursday to mean he’s resigned that gun control isn’t possible. He told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco on Friday that he is not resigned and has faith eventually the country will “do the right thing.”
He says attitudes have to change among lawful gun owners as well as those unfamiliar with guns. He says Congress will act when the public insists on action, Citing changing public opinion on gay marriage and climate change.
DEATH PENALTY. The chief prosecutor in Charleston County wants to talk to the families and review the evidence before making any decision on whether to seek the death penalty against a man charged with killing nine people at a Bible study inside a Charleston church.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson spoke to reporters but took no questions Friday. She says her office is working hand-in-hand with federal prosecutors, who are reviewing whether or not the shooting fits the federal definition of a hate crime.
The crime fits at least one of the reasons prosecutors can seek the death penalty in South Carolina – multiple people were killed in the same act. But Wilson says she always talks to families of victims before deciding whether to seek death.
SHOOTER MADE RACIAL REMARK. Newly released police documents say the white man accused of killing nine people inside a black church stood over a witness and made a racially inflammatory remark.
Affidavits released Friday say 21-year-old Dylann Roof began shooting about an hour after he entered the Bible study at the church. It says he shot all nine victims multiple times, and that he stood over a witness and made the racial remark after the shooting.
The affidavits say Roof walked into the church around 8:06 p.m. Wednesday wearing a fanny pack, and that he walked out about an hour later holding a handgun.
The documents also say that Roof’s father and uncle called authorities after seeing surveillance photos of him publicized. Roof’s father told investigators his son owned a .45-caliber handgun, the affidavits say.
AT THE CHURCH. A steady stream of people is visiting the memorial in front of the black church where authorities say a young white man slaughtered nine people during a Bible study.
Police tape still cordoned off the area Friday, and FBI agents were investigating in the back parking lot of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Eight vehicles have remained in the lot for some time.
A pile of flowers in front of the church is growing. Media trucks and reporters are set up along the road, and traffic slows as cars pass by the memorial. People on foot stop to take pictures with cellphones.
The Associated Press