Relatives of the Charleston church shooting victims gave emotional statements during Dylann Roof’s initial court appearance Friday, some of them breaking into sobs as one after another they told the man suspected of killing their loved ones that they forgive him.
“You took something really precious from me. I will never talk to her again,” the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, one of nine people killed in Wednesday's massacre, said. “But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you. I forgive you.”
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Felecia Sanders, mother of the youngest victim, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, also spoke.
“Every fiber in my body hurts,” Sanders said, “and I will never be the same.”
Roof is accused of carrying out the killings during a Bible study session inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Wednesday night in what investigators are treating as a hate crime.
Sanders survived the shooting by playing dead.
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know,” she said in court. “As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”
Flanked by two officers in flak jackets, Roof appeared in court via a closed-circuit video link from a holding cell inside the Charleston County jail. The 21-year-old was charged Friday with nine counts of murder and one firearms charge.
Roof answered a few questions from the judge, confirming his address, age and that he is not employed. He looked down as the family members spoke, but did not show emotion.
“I forgive you, and my family forgives you,” Anthony Thompson, the husband of 59-year-old Myra Thompson, said. “But we would like you take this opportunity to repent. Change your ways.”
“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love,” the grandson of 74-year-old Daniel Simmons said. “So hate won't win.”
“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,” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. told the Associated Press.
Forgiving Roof, though, hasn’t been easy for everyone.
“For me, I am a work in progress,” admitted a relative of 49-year-old Depayne Middleton Doctor. “I am very angry, [but] we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate, so I have to forgive.”
On Friday evening, Roof's family expressed their "deepest sympathies and condolences to families of the victims" via a written statement.
"Words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred," the statement said.
"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."