(CN) – In a remarkable show of forgiveness, family members of the nine people gunned down during Bible study in Charleston church faced their loved ones’ alleged killer in bond court Friday and told him, “Hate will not win.”
Appearing via close-circuit television from the Charleston County jail across the street from the courtroom, Dylann Storm Roof looked downcast and said little as Judge Skip Gosnell explained the next steps in what promises to be a long legal process.
Because the court does not have authority to set bond for murder charges, Roof was guaranteed to remain in custody as his case proceeds. Judge Gosnell set bail at $1 million for the single count of illegal possession of a weapon.
He told Roof that his next court appearance will be on Oct. 23 and his second on Feb. 5, 2016.
The only time Roof reacted in any fashion was to meekly respond to Gosnell’s questions regarding his address, age and employment status.
Ashley Pennington, Roof’s court-appointed attorney, told Gosnell his client had no further statement to make.
With that, the judge turned to the victims’ family members and offered them the opportunity to speak.
Nicole Lance, the daughter of Ethel Lance, 70, who had worked at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for 30 years, wept softly as she spoke.
“I will never be able to talk to her again. I will never be able to hold her again, … You have hurt a lot of people … but I forgive you,” she said.
Anthony Thompson, whose grandmother Myra Thompson, 59, also died in the slaughter, said he forgave Roof.
“My family forgives you,” he said, urging the young man on the video screen to repent.
Felicia Sanders, mother of the youngest victim, Tywanza Sanders, 26, began haltingly.
“We welcomed you into our Bible study with open arms,” she said, sounding mystified. “Every fiber in my body hurts. I will never be the same, but like the others, I say, may God have mercy on your soul.”
“We are a family that love built,” said Allana Simmons, grandaughter of Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74, the retired pastor of another church in Charleston, who died after being taken the Medical University of South Carolina. “We have no room for hate. We have to forgive you … because hate will not win.”
Morning law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified told reporters Frdiay that Roof confessed within moments of his arrest Thursday in Shelby, N.C., a small town about four hours northwest of Charleston, and told investigators he hoped to start a race war.
NBC News reported that Roof told investigators he almost didn’t go through with the massacre “because everyone was so nice to him.”
He ultimately decided he had to “go through with his mission,” the report said.
None of Roof’s relatives would comment when contacted by telephone by the Courthouse News. Until Wednesday night they were planning for a Sunday wedding of Roof’s sister, Amber.
Officials in South Carolina are piecing together a portrait of Roof, who they say was obsessed with matters of race and the Civil War. The profile picture of Roof’s Facebook page, which was taken down Thursday, showed him scowling against a swampy backdrop in a jacket emblazoned with two large patches: the flag of apartheid-era South Africa and the flag of white-ruled Rhodesia.
Strangely, a large number of Roof’s nearly 100 Facebook friends appeared to be black.
But friends who have been speaking with several news organizations said Roof’s profile picture tells the tale.
“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” a friend named Dalton Tyler told ABC News Thursday.
Tyler also said Roof was “planning something” like the Charleston massacre for at least six months, but no one took him seriously or thought to notify the police.
He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself,” Tyler told ABC.
Law enforcement officials in Charleston said Roof obtained a .45-caliber Glock handgun on or shortly after his birthday in April. However, there have been conflicting accounts of how he got it, with officials initially saying his parents bought it for him as a gift, but later saying he bought it himself at a Charleston gun store with money he received as a gift.
More details are also emerging about how Roof was captured so quickly.
Officials said it was Roof’s sister Amber who alerted them to his identity after seeing the surveillance photo from the church on television.
Among those who also saw television reports of the shooting was Debbie Dills, who was driving to her job at a Kings Mountain, North Carolina florist shop at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning when she saw someone who looked like the alleged gunman driving a black Hyundai with South Carolina license plates on U.S. Highway 74.
Dills called her boss, who in turn called Kings Mountain police. Meanwhile Dills began following the Hyundai, hoping to get a better look at the license plate number, officials said.
She wound up following Roof for more than 35 miles before Shelby, North Carolina police finally flagged him down.
Still unknown is whether the alleged gunman was targeting a specific individual when he opened fire Wednesday night, or whether he is a member of any organized white supremacist group.
“We don’t know if anybody was targeted other than the church itself,” said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen.
As reported by Courthouse News on Thursday, Roof had two earlier brushes with the law this year.
In February, he came to the attention of police when he approached a store employee in the Bath & Body Works at the Columbiana Centre, a regional shopping mall in Columbia, and began asking questions about the number of people who worked in the store and what time they would be leaving.
Roof initially told police he was looking for a job, but later admitted he hadn’t filled out a single application. According to the police report, Roof was acting nervously as he interacted with the officer, prompting a search of his person that turned up Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opiate addition.
When Roof admitted he didn’t have a prescription for it, he was arrested and charged with felony drug possession. The case is still pending, but Roof’s arrest led to his being barred from entering the mall for a year.
That led to his second arrest, in April, on a misdemeanor charge of trespassing at the Columbiana Centre. He was convicted of that charge last month.
Making the rounds of the morning news programs Friday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said the murders of the nine people in the AME church is a hate crime, and that the gunman should face the death penalty.
“This is the worst hate that I’ve seen and that the country has seen in a long time. We absolutely will want him to have the death penalty,” she said.
South Carolina has not put an inmate to death since 2011. State law says that prosecutors can seek the death penalty — which is carried out by lethal injection here — only if there certain “aggravating” circumstances are present in the case.
These include the suspect being charged with murdering two or more people during a single act.
Scarlett A. Wilson, the prosecutor for Charleston County, told reporters after Roof’s bond hearing that her “mission is to bring justice” for the community and the victims of the tragedy.
Should she choose not to pursue the death penalty, Roof would face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department announced it is investigating the Charleston murders as a possible case of domestic terrorism.
In a statement, agency spokeswoman Emily Pierce said “[t]his heartbreaking episode was undoubtedly designed to strije fear and terror into this community.
“The department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism,” Pierce said.
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