CHARLESTON, S.C. – Dylann Storm Roof made his first appearance in a Charleston courtroom on Friday, with family members sharing the pain of the tragedy with him as he watched on television from a nearby room.
As Roof watched, the mother of one of those killed, Tywanza Sanders, told him how the congregation had welcomed him at the church.
“Every fiber in my body is hurting,” Felecia Sanders said. “I’ll never be the same. Tywanza was my son. But Tywanza was my hero.”
She added, “May God have mercy on you.”
Sanders survived the shooting by pretending to be dead.
Other family members gave tearful recollections of their loved ones who were killed. And one said she was glad she would not be around when God passed judgment on Roof.
The husband of one of the women shot and killed at a historic black church in Charleston says he forgives the man accused of slaying her and eight others.
Anthony Thompson said during a court hearing Friday for the suspect, Dylann Roof, that he and his family forgive him. He asked the 21-year-old Roof to repent and confess, and to give his life to Christ. He says “do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”
Roof did not appear to react as the families gave their statements.
In a statement released by an attorney, his family said, “Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed this week. We have all been touched by the moving words from the victim’s families offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.”
The statement concludes by asking for privacy for the Roof family and referring media questions to his attorney.
A judge set a $1 million bond Roof for a weapons charge but doesn’t have the authority to set bond on the nine murder counts that Roof faces. That will be left up to a circuit judge at a later date.
Also on Friday, newly released 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 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.
Meanwhile Friday, people of Charleston sought to repudiate whatever a gunman would hope to accomplish by killing black community leaders inside one of the nation’s most important African-American churches.
“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 an evening vigil at a sports arena near the church.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said 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.
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.
Roof, 21, 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.
Apprehended in North Carolina after a motorist recognized him and helped alert police, Roof was shackled, handcuffed and returned in a bulletproof vest Thursday to Charleston, where a bond hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday. Most such hearings are conducted by video link from the county jail where he is being held.
In addition to the nine murder counts, Roof is charged with possessing a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, police said Friday. That’s a common charge in South Carolina when a gun is involved, whether it was legally owned or not.
The victims included a state senator who doubled as the church’s lead pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney; as well as several other pastors and church elders, a library manager, high school coaches, a government administrator, a college enrollment counselor and a recent college graduate – six women and three men who initially welcomed Roof into the church.
“The suspect entered the group and was accepted by them, as they believed that he wanted to join them in this Bible study,” she said. Then, “he became very aggressive and violent.”
President Barack Obama pointed to lax gun controls as a factor in the slayings, and complained that Washington politics have shut down efforts to require universal background checks for gun purchases. The candidates campaigning to replace him largely avoided mentioning guns at all.
Roof said he used birthday money from his parents to buy a .45 Glock pistol before the attack, Meek said. He must have hidden the weapon, because Charleston County Coroner Rae Wilson said he didn’t initially appear threatening to the church members.
Meek called the FBI after recognizing Roof in the surveillance footage, down to the stained sweatshirt he wore while they played Xbox videogames the morning of the attack.
“I didn’t THINK it was him. I KNEW it was him,” Meek told The Associated Press after being interviewed by investigators.
It’s not clear whether Roof had any connection to the 16 white supremacist organizations operating in South Carolina, but he appears to be a “disaffected white supremacist,” based on his Facebook page, said Richard Cohen, president of Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
On his Facebook page, Roof displayed the flags of defeated white-ruled regimes, posing with a Confederate flags plate on his car and wearing a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, which is now black-led Zimbabwe.
His previous record includes misdemeanor drug and trespassing charges.
Spilling blood inside a black church – especially “Mother Emanuel,” founded in 1816 – evoked painful memories nationwide, a reminder that black churches so often have been the targets of racist violence.
A church founder, Denmark Vesey, was hanged after trying to organize a slave revolt in 1822, and white landowners burned the church in revenge, leaving parishioners to worship underground until after the Civil War. The congregation rebuilt and grew stronger, eventually winning campaigns for voting rights and political representation.
Pinckney recalled his church’s history in a 2013 sermon, saying “we don’t see ourselves as just a place where we come to worship, but as a beacon and as a bearer of the culture.”
“What the church is all about,” Pinckney said, is the “freedom to be fully what God intends us to be and have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you got to make noise to do that. Sometimes you may have to die like Denmark Vesey to do that.”
Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two and a Democrat who spent 19 years in the South Carolina legislature after he was first elected at 23, becoming the youngest member of the House.
The other victims were Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; and the reverends DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Singleton, 45; and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the attack would be investigated as a hate crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.