RELATIVES of some of the nine churchgoers shot dead in South Carolina have confronted the shooting suspect at a court and told him they forgive him.
Dylann Storm Roof, who faces nine counts of murder, appeared by video link from jail for the initial court hearing. He spoke only briefly in response to the judge’s questions.
The 21-year-old showed no emotion as relatives of the victims addressed him.
“I forgive you, my family forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”
Roof was ordered to be held on bail of $1 million (£630,000) on the weapons charge pending another hearing by another judge on the murder charges.
Felecia Sanders survived the Wednesday night attack by pretending to be dead, but lost her son Tywanza.
We will absolutely want him to have the death penaltyNikki Haley, governor
She also spoke from the judge’s courtroom.
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fibre in my body hurts and I’ll never be the same.”
Their remarkable comments seemed in keeping with a spirit evident on the streets of Charleston, where people built a memorial and planned a vigil at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the nation’s most important African-American sanctuaries.
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said the state would “absolutely” want the death penalty.
A steady stream of people took flowers and notes and shared their thoughts at a growing memorial in front of the church, which president Barack Obama called “a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America”.
“This was an act of racial terrorism and must be treated as such,” the Rev Cornell William Brooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, said yesterday in Charleston.
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 off the FBI when he saw his friend on surveillance images.
Roof was arrested in North Carolina after an alert motorist recognised him, and returned in shackles to a county jail.
The victims included Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who doubled as the church’s lead pastor, and eight others who each played multiple roles in their communities and families: ministers and coaches, teachers and a librarian, counsellors and choir singers, and the church sexton who kept the historic building clean.
The Justice Department is still investigating whether to file federal hate crime charges.
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 Zimbabwe.
It’s not clear whether Roof had any connection to 16 white supremacist organisations operating in South Carolina.
Roof was also arrested in February after workers said he appeared dressed entirely in black and asking strange questions at a shopping mall.