A magistrate judge in South Carolina has set bond at $1 million on a weapons charge for a 21-year-old man suspected of murdering nine people during a church meeting on Wednesday – but the hearing had shades of revival meeting embedded as family members of the victims used a victims’ impact statement time to forgive the alleged killer.
Dylann Roof was making his first appearance on the charges on Friday, and was in front of a camera in a tiny locked room in the jail near the courthouse. Two armed officers stood behind him during the hearing, which lasted only a few minutes.
Roof, wearing prison garb with a packet of papers in his shirt pocket, appeared subdued, answered the judge’s questions about age and address briefly, and appeared to show no emotion. His hands remained cuffed during the hearing.
The judge, James Gosnell, said he was not authorized by statute to set bond on murder charges, so Roof would remain behind bars no matter any other ruling on Friday.
He set Roof’s next court appearance for Oct. 23, and a subsequent hearing on Feb. 5, 2016.
In a move that was out of the ordinary, the judge himself made a statement before beginning the hearing.
“Charleston is a strong, very strong community,” he said. “We have big hearts. We’re a very loving community. We’re going to reach out to all victims … and we will touch them. We have victims, nine of them.”
But he also noted the victims on the “other side,” those members of Roof’s family.
“We must find it in our heart that at some point in time not only to help those who are victims but to help his family as well.”
The judge read the charges, and asked representatives of the victims’ families if they wanted to make statements. Several declined, but others came forward.
The daughter of victim Ethel Lance said, “I will never be able to hold her, but I forgive you. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.”
A relative of victim Myra Thompson appeared to address Roof directly, “Take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to one who matters the most, Christ, so that he can change you.”
A family member for Tywanza Sanders said, “May God have mercy on your soul.”
Several others said they were determined that, although it appeared hate prompted the crime, they would not allow hate to reign.
One said, “We are the family that love built. We have no room for hate. We have to forgive … [but] I thank God I won’t be … around when your judgment day comes with Him.”
By Friday evening, the Roof family had released a statement to the media. It said:
“The Roof family would like to extend their deepest sympathies and condolences to families of the victims in Wednesday night’s shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. We offer our prayers [and] sympathy for all of those impacted by these events.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed this week. We have all been touched by the moving words from the victims’ families offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.
“Our hope and prayer is for peace and healing for the families of the victims, the Charleston community, and those touched by these events throughout the state of South Carolina and our nation.
“As you can imagine, words are hard to find and we would ask that the media respect our family’s privacy at this time. …”
See WND’s extensive coverage of the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre: