Dylann Roof’s Victims’ Kin Speak, Offer Forgiveness

Annie Simmons holds a photo of her husband, Daniel, one of nine people killed in June 2015 at Emanuel A.M.E. Church. AP / David Goldman, File

After months of hearings, jury selection, evidence presentation and prosecution and defense arguments and an eventual verdict, the survivors of Dylann Roof’s rampage at Emanuel A.M.E. finally had their turn to speak. When they did, they expressed anything but the hatred he espoused when killing their loved ones.

“I brought my Bible to the courtroom … shot up,” said Felicia Sanders, who lost her son Tywanza and her aunt Susie Jackson when roof opened fire at an evening bible study in the Charleston, S.C. church in June 2015. “It reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof.”

Roof was sentenced to death by a federal jury on Tuesday and a formal sentencing, held by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel began Wednesday morning. During the hearing, several of the relatives of Roof’s nine victims were allowed to address him. He looked down at the table while he was being spoken to, never making eye contact with any of them, nor responding.

“Yes, I forgive you,” Sanders said. “That was the easiest thing I had to do. …But you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. May God have mercy on your soul.”

The Charleston Post and Courier reported that the courtroom was packed with loved ones waiting to speak in court about what they had been through since the shooting and the losses they suffered. Some insisted that they held on to their faith and doctrines of forgiveness.

“You can’t have my joy,” said Bethane Middleton-Brown, whose sister, Depayne Middleton Doctor died in the shooting. “It is simply not yours to take.”

But others flatly cursed Roof: “As you wait for your death I hope your conscience and your guilt eats you alive,” said Doctor’s daughter Gracyn. “Hopefully you will go straight to hell… where you will spend an eternity.”

Dan Simmons Jr., whose father Daniel Sr., was killed also fell back on Christian teachings, saying he has prayed for Roof and hopes that the evil within him finds its way out.

“I forgive you for you actions. You are just a body being used. You didn’t understand the presence of the evil that possesses you,” he said. “But thank God that He gives us the the opportunity for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the heartbeat that pulls us to another level.”

Roof is the first person convicted of a federal hate crime to be sentenced to death. But it could take years before he is dead. The possibility exists of lengthy hearings and appeals on the legal grounds of executing him. In addition, a state trial must still take place, which was postponed because of the federal trial. No word on when the state proceedings will begin.

Image: Annie Simmons holds a photo of her husband, Daniel, one of nine people killed in June 2015 at Emanuel A.M.E. Church. AP / David Goldman, File