Dylann Roof silent during statements from families of Charleston shootings victims

Family members of some of the nine people shot dead by a gunmen in a prominent Charleston, S.C., church made emotional statementsat the alleged shooter's first hearing court hearing.

Roof facing 9 counts of murder after shootings at 'Mother Emanuel' church

Dylann Roof said nothing and appeared unmoved as families of the victims of Wednesday night's shootings read tearful statements to the court on Friday. (Reuters)

Family members of some of the nine people shot dead by a gunmen in a prominent Charleston, S.C., church delivered emotional statements at the alleged shooter's first court hearing this afternoon.

Dylann Roof appeared via video before the chief magistrate of Charleston County, who set his bond at $1 million US. Roof wore a jail jumpsuit and was handcuffed, and spoke only to answer questions. When asked his age, he told the judge he was 21. He also told the judge he was unemployed.

Before the judge delivered his bond ruling, he asked representatives from the families of the victims to deliver statements to the court. While some of the families declined, others stood and spoke powerful words of forgiveness to Roof, who has been charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

"You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never get to hold her again," said the daughter of Ethel Lee Lance, a 70-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother killed in Wednesday night's shootings. 

"But I forgive you."

Every fibre in my body hurts and I'll never be the same.— Felecia Sanders, mother of victim

​Felecia Sanders, who pretended to be dead to survive the attack and is the mother of 26-year-old victim Tywanza Sanders, wept as she spoke.

"We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms," she said. "Every fibre in my body hurts and I'll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was also my hero."​

The granddaughter of 74-year-old victim Daniel Simmons Sr., Alana Simmons, said that those killed "lived in love and their legacies will live in love."

"Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate ... hate won't win," she said.

Kearston Farr comforts her daughter, Taliyah Farr,5, outside of "Mother Emanuel" church. A memorial has been growing in front of the church. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

At a news conference following the hearing, the chief prosecutor in Charleston County Scarlett Wilson said she wants to speak with the families and review evidence before making any decision on whether to seek the death penalty against Roof. 

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.

Police documents released Friday say Roof stood over a witness and made a racially inflammatory remark and shot each victim multiple times. 

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-calibre handgun, the affidavits say.

Earlier reports said that Roof's father bought him the gun for his 21st birthday, though he denied that to media organizations on Friday, saying his son purchased the weapon with his own money. 

'An act of racial terrorism'

The comments in court seemed in keeping with a spirit evident on the streets of Charleston Friday, where people built a memorial and thousands attended a vigil to repudiate whatever a gunman would hope to accomplish by attacking one of the nation's most important African-American sanctuaries.

"A hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea he'd be able to divide, but all he did was unite us and make us love each other even more," Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said as he described plans for a Friday night vigil at a sports arena near the church.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday that the state will "absolutely" want the death penalty for Roof, who opened fire after sitting through a Wednesday night Bible study session inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

NAACP National President and CEO Cornell Brooks said it is "unconscionable [and] morally incomprehensible" that a stranger could be welcomed to a religious meeting and then start shooting.

"This was an act of racial terrorism and must be treated as such," he said.

Brooks also called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina state house.

A steady stream of people brought flowers and notes and shared somber thoughts at a growing memorial in front of the church, known as "Mother Emanuel" for its historic place among the sanctuaries of black society.

President and CEO of NAACP rails against intolerance

7 years ago
Duration 14:34
Charleston branch of the NAACP news conference with Rev. Cornell William Brooks

State senator, church leaders killed

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 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. 

Apprehended in North Carolina after a motorist recognized him and helped alert police, Roof shackled, handcuffed and returned in a bulletproof vest to Charleston.

It was the third arrest for Roof, who was quizzed by police in February after workers at the Columbiana shopping mall said he appeared dressed entirely in black, asking strange questions about employee movements and closing times. He was charged then with possessing suboxone, a drug typically used to treat heroin addiction. A trespassing charge was added after he showed up again in April, prompting a three-year ban from the mall.

The victims of the church shooting included Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who doubled as the church's lead pastor, and eight others who each played multiple roles in their communities and families: ministers and coaches, teachers and a librarian, counsellors and choir singers and the church sexton who kept the historic building clean.

'I'm very angry'

"The suspect entered the group and was accepted by them, as they believed that he wanted to join them in this Bible study," Charleston County Coroner Rae Wilson said. Then, "he became very aggressive and violent."

Spilling blood inside the "Mother Emanuel" church, founded in 1816, evoked painful memories of the racist violence that black churches have so often suffered, and values their congregations have tried to uphold in response.

"For me, I'm a work in progress and I acknowledge that I'm very angry," said Bethane Middleton-Brown, who appeared in court on behalf of her sister, the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor.

"We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God I won't be around when your judgment day comes with him."

With files from The Associated Press


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