The family members of Dylann Roof’s alleged victims gave emotional statements about their grief during the 21-year-old’s first appearance in court for a bond hearing at shortly before 2 p.m. on Friday.
Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime for Wednesday’s brutal slayings at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where he fatally shot nine people. He was ordered held without bail.
In a highly irregular move, Chief Magistrate James Gosnell called out the names of the victims one by one, asking family members to step forward if they wished to deliver a statement.
The first to speak was the daughter of Ethel Lance. In a gracious statement, she told Roof, who appeared via videoconference, that she forgave him.
“I will never talk to her ever again,” she said. “I will never be able to hold her ever again. But I forgive you.”
She added: “You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you.”
Anthony Thompson, husband of the slain Myra Thompson, echoed Lance’s daughter’s words. “I forgive you, my family forgives you,” he said. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess to the one that matters the most so that he can change it, change your ways no matter what happened to you.”
Felecia Sanders, the grandmother who shielded her 5-year-old granddaughter from the gunfire, but lost her son in process, told Roof that the parishioners “welcomed you Wednesday night at our Bible study with open arms.”
She continued, fighting tears: “You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know And it will never be the same. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you.”
Allana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, said: “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live on.
“Hate won’t win,” she concluded firmly.
Added a relative of Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor: “I am a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry.”
But she too forgives Roof: “We are the family that love built. We have no room for hate so we have to forgive.”
The judge opened the hearing with words of his own. “Charleston is a very strong community,” Gosnell said. “We have big hearts. We are a very loving community and we are going to reach out to everyone and we will touch them. ”
He cautioned against demonizing Roof’s family. “We must find it in our heart not only to help those that are victims, but also to help those in his family as well,” Gosnell continued.
For his part, Roof was solemn as he listened to the hearing. He kept his eyes on the ground as the victims’ relatives gave their painful testimony and only spoke to answer three questions from the judge.
His next court date is set for Oct. 23 at 2 p.m.
Individuals who want to donate in memory of the victims of the Charleston church massacre are asked to text “prayforcharleston” to 843-606-5995 or donate online at the Palmetto Project.
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