CHARLESTON, S.C. — Family members of those who were shot and killed Wednesday night during a Bible study at a historic African American church in South Carolina addressed the gunman on Friday, forgiving him and calling him to repentance and faith in Christ.
“You took something very precious from me,” declared Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, during a bond hearing in which gunman Dylann Roof, 21, appeared via video. “I will never talk to her again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. ”
As previously reported, the shooting occurred at Wednesday evening at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The suspect is believed to have attended the service for about an hour before spraying the room with gunfire, reloading several times.
When police arrived on the scene, they found eight persons (six women, two men) who were already deceased, including the pastor. One church member was transported by ambulance to the hospital, but died on the operating table.
While motives were unknown earlier in the day Thursday, as the suspect was identified and friends and acquaintances interviewed, the belief became firmer that Roof had acted out of his disdain for African Americans.
One woman who was in the congregation the night that Roof gunned down her church family said that he had declared before opening fire, “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.”
Roof’s roommate, Dalton Tyler, told reporters that the 21-year-old had been planning an attack for six months.
“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” he told ABC News. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
As Roof was addressed by the family members of the deceased on Friday, forgiveness and mercy amidst great pain were often upon the lips of those who spoke.
“We welcomed you into our Bible study with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders, mother of victim Tywanza Sanders. “You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fiber of my being hurts. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. And may God have mercy on you.”
Anthony Thompson, son of victim Myra Thompson, urged Roof to repent of his sins and turn to faith in Christ.
“I forgive you and my family forgives you,” he said. “But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one matters the most—Christ—so He can change it, change your ways no matter what happened to you. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”
Roof is facing nine counts of murder and one count of possessing a weapon in the commission of a crime. He is next expected to appear in court in October.