Families Of Charleston, S.C., Victims Say They Will Not 'Let Hate Take Over'

Jun 19, 2015
Originally published on June 19, 2015 8:13 pm
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There were raw emotions today in a Charleston, S.C. courtroom. It was the first hearing for Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged with killing nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He appeared via video link and relatives of the victims not only looked on, they spoke to him and said they forgive him. NPR's Cheryl Corley was at the hearing and joins us now. And Cheryl, tell us more about these remarkable statements of forgiveness from relatives of the victims.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Well, as you mentioned, it was just an amazing moment. Most of the family members talked about missing their relatives, and as you say, many of them offered forgiveness. The daughter of victim Ethel Lance didn't give her own name, but here's what she had to say about her mother.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you and I forgive you.

CORLEY: And other family members had a similar message, saying that they were just not going to let hate take over their lives.

BLOCK: Now, Cheryl, before the families spoke, the judge in this case opened the proceedings with his own message. What did he have to say?

CORLEY: Well, Chief Magistrate James Gosnell acknowledged all of the emotion surrounding this tragedy. And he talked directly to the relatives of the victims. But he also mentioned what he said was another set of victims in this case.


JAMES GOSNELL: There are victims on this young man's side of the family. Nobody would have ever thrown them into the whirlwind of events that they have been thrown into.

CORLEY: And the Root family - Roof family also issued a statement today saying they want to offer their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the nine victims. That statement went on to say that words couldn't express their shock and grief and disbelief. And they've just been touched by the moving words of the families of the victims as they offer forgiveness in the face of such horrible suffering.

BLOCK: And Cheryl, we mentioned that Dylann Roof appeared in the courtroom by video. What was he like? What did he have to say for himself?

CORLEY: Well, he was dressed in a jail uniform. He looked very subdued. Guards brought him from the jail into another room in the building but not in the courtroom. Those two guards were behind him. And he just briefly answered the judge's questions - questions about his age, his employment and his address. And he didn't really have much emotion on his face at all when those relatives spoke.

BLOCK: What happens next with this case?

CORLEY: Well, the judge in the case didn't have the authority to set bond on the nine counts of murder, but he did set a $1 million bond on the weapons charges that Roof faces. And he set some future court dates.

We also got a few more details today from an affidavit that was released. Apparently, Dylann Roof's father and his uncle positively identified him to police after they saw photographs that were taken from surveillance video. And his father also told investigators that his son owns a 45-caliber handgun, and 45-caliber casings were recovered from the crime scene.

The mayor and the governor have both said that they believe the death penalty should be an option in this case, however the prosecutor has said the first obligation is to the victims and now isn't the time to have conversations about the death penalty, that families needs to have time to mourn and grieve, and that's when they'll start having those conversations about the death penalty.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Cheryl Corley reporting from Charleston. Cheryl, thank you.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.