Victims’ Families Confront Confessed Church Shooter

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CHARLESTON, SC — Dylann Roof faced families of some of the nine people he’s accused of killing and heard words of forgiveness.

His response: A blank expression.

Wearing a striped prison shirt, the 21-year-old appeared Friday afternoon by video feed at a bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina. He stood motionless while listening to the anguished words of relatives of victims he allegedly gunned down Wednesday night at a Bible study meeting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance said. “And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

Felicia Sanders — the mother of victim Tywanza Sanders — said that “every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same.”

“As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you,” she said of Roof. “But may God have mercy on you.”

Roof barely spoke, answering the judge’s questions about his unemployment with a “yes sir” and “no sir” and stating his age as 21.

Magistrate James B. Gosnell Jr. drew fire on social media by opening the hearing by expressing sympathy for the suspect’s family.

The judge reminded people that “we have victims on this young man’s side of the family and the world they are thrown into,” and reminded everyone to “help those that are victims but to also help [Roof’s] family as well.”

Gosnell set bail at $1 million on a weapons possession charge. A circuit judge will hold a bond hearing later on the nine murder charges, but it’s unlikely Roof will be allowed to leave jail.

The suspect actually is being held in the North Charleston jail. Authorities didn’t want him to appear at the bond hearing in person for security reasons.

Roof also may be prosecuted by federal authorities if it’s determined he committed a hate crime.

Roof admits he did it, sources say

Roof admits he shot and killed the people he’d sat with for Bible study at the historically black church, two law enforcement officials said.

But why? To start a race war.

That’s what Roof told investigators, according to one of the officials.

CNN’s Evan Perez and Wesley Bruer were the first to report Roof’s confession. Others earlier gave a glimpse into the twisted motivation — including at the time and site of the shooting.

There, a survivor told Sylvia Johnson that Roof answered one man’s pleas to stop by saying, “No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.”

A friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan “to do something crazy” in order “to start a race war.” And the Berkeley County, South Carolina, government tweeted a picture of him in a jacket with flags from apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that was ruled by a white minority until it became independent in 1980.

By telling authorities his aim, Roof admitted he attacked unarmed civilians for political purposes in an act of terror.

What led the South Carolinian to adopt this reasoning and take such actions Wednesday night? Did anyone else help him or even know about his plans? And what is his general mental state? All are major, looming questions. Another is what American society should or will do now, if anything, to prevent similar tragedies.

In the meantime, nine families are left to mourn and a community is left to come together, ideally, to heal.

“This hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea that he would be able to divide,” Mayor Joseph Riley said. “And all he did was make us more united, and love each other even more.”

Roof faces a long legal road ahead.

It could end in his execution, assuming he’s convicted and prosecutors seek (and are granted) such a death sentence,according to South Carolina law. Gov. Nikki Haley indicated that’s what she wants, while Charleston’s mayor — while he doesn’t support the death penalty personally — thinks it’s inevitable.

“If you’re going to have a death penalty,” Riley said, “then certainly this case will merit it.”