CHARLESTON, S.C. — Family members of those who were shot to death while attending a 2015 Bible study at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church called upon gunman Dylann Roof to turn to Christ on Wednesday as he was formally sentenced to death for his crimes.
“If at any point before you are sentenced and you’re in prison and you want me to come and pray with you, I will do that,” offered Sheila Capers, the sister-in-law of Cynthia Hurd, who said she prays for Roof to be saved.
According to reports, Roof would not make eye contact with those who spoke to him and remained expressionless.
“I understand why you don’t want to look at us, so I will speak to the spirit that possesses you,” declared Dan Simmons Jr., son of ministerial staff member Daniel Simmons, who was among the victims.
“You don’t have to look at me. But I see that spirit. I want you to think about that as I forgive for your act, for your actions,” he said. “Know you have an opportunity to ask for forgiveness. Know that God will forgive you. … If you choose to serve Him, you will have a better life.”
Simmons also offered personal forgiveness to Roof despite the pain.
“I know that you don’t understand that, but God requires me to forgive you,” he said. “He also requires me to plead and pray for you. And I do that.”
Shirrene Goss, the sister of Tywanza Sanders, took to task Roof’s assertion that he “had to do it,” reminding him of the gravity of his sins.
“You, young man, are among the worst kind of evil,” she said. “You have said you didn’t have to do this, but you felt you had to do this. The fact is, you did not have to do this just as my brother Tywanza urged you not to. … One day before your final earthly judgment, it’s going to come to you, and you are going to realize you did not have to do this. And it’s going to hit you hard.”
Sander’s father also spoke, warning Roof that he will have to face his Creator.
“Why you want to single out black people in a church?” he asked. “That I don’t know. But whoever your Creator is, He’s coming for you.”
Melvin Graham, the brother of victim Cynthia Graham Hurd, told reporters after the sentencing that he was leaving the matter in the hands of God, who has given Roof another chance to repent before it is too late.
“He’s in God’s hands now,” Graham said. “If he turns his life around, if he makes a humble confession to God, when he gets there he can join my sister and the other eight in heaven.”
But, he warned, “Just like when he showed no remorse here—when that time comes [for him to die]—if he chooses not to show any remorse, then he again will determine his sentence.”
Roof is the first convict charged with a hate crime to be sentenced to death. He has 14 days to appeal.
As previously reported, Roof is believed to have attended Emanuel’s Wednesday night Bible study for approximately an hour on June 17, 2015 before spraying the room with gunfire, reloading several times.
When police arrived on the scene, they found eight people—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.
A woman who was in the congregation that night said that he had made racist remarks before opening fire, stating, “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.”