Charleston Victim's Mother Tells Dylann Roof: 'I Forgive You'

Published: Jan. 11, 2017 at 12:47 PM CST
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Felicia Sanders, the mother of one of the nine victims killed by Dylann Roof in a Charleston church, told Roof this morning at his sentencing hearing, "I forgive you."

"That's the easiest thing I had to do. But you don't want to help somebody who don't want to help themselves," she told her son's killer, according to ABC affiliate WCIV. "May God have mercy on your soul."

Felicia Sanders survived Roof's shooting rampage on June 17, 2015, that killed nine black parishioners who had gathered at the Charleston, South Carolina, church for Bible study. She was there when her son, Tywanza Sanders, was shot to death.

Roof on Tuesday was sentenced to death. Victims' family members today had the opportunity to address Roof in court directly at his formal sentencing, though Roof did not look at the family members as they spoke.

"You took my love away from me, and since June 17 I've gotten to know you," Sanders said to Roof at his sentencing hearing, according to WCIV. "I know you because you are in my head all day."

"I can't hear balloons pop. I can't see the fireworks," she continued. She explained that she can't shut her eyes to pray because she needs to keep them open to see those around her.

"You look at each individual in this room. Each and every one of us are a little different, but we are still human," he said, according to WCIV. "What I want you to do is close your eyes, since you don't want to look at me. ... And I want you to look to your right. And look to your left. He's human. Why you want to single out black people in a church I don't know. But whoever your creator is needs to come be with you."

According to WCIV, Tywanza's sister, Shirrene Goss, told Roof, "One day it's going to come to you and you're going to realize you did not have to do this. And it's going to bring you to your knees. And you're going to have to ask -- no -- you're going to have to beg for forgiveness."

"My brother didn't deserve what he got," she said. "None of the victims did. But you deserve every bit of the sentence you received."

A jury Tuesday sentenced Roof, 22, to death after three hours of deliberations. Roof was convicted of hate crimes resulting in death, among other charges, in his federal death penalty case. This is the first time a death penalty verdict was rendered in a federal hate crimes case, the Justice Department said.

Before the jury began deliberating, Roof told the jury Tuesday in a closing statement, "I still feel like I had to do it."

Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of the slain Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, said to Roof today, according to WCIV, "I wanted to hate you, but my faith tells me no. I wanted to remain angry and bitter, but my view of life won't let me."

"You took someone precious from me, but my faith tells me she was a borrowed angel God called home," she said, according to WCIV.

Until Roof repents, "God gave you to Satan and your soul is Satan's playground," she added. "Dylann Roof you can't look at me, but when you're alone you will hear my voice and see my face."

Middleton-Doctor's daughter, Gracyn, called Roof "Satan."

"You will rot in hell where you belong," she said, as Roof sat motionless, according to WCIV. "I hope your guilt eats you alive. While you're pleading for life and begging for your life, I hope God forgives you, the one sin I'm not sure even he can forgive. ... This spawn of Satan will not steal our joy."

Middleton-Doctor's niece addressed Roof as "the devil sitting here today."

"How dare you sit here every day looking dumb-faced, acting like you did nothing wrong, and had the nerve to insinuate you were misled. How dare you even smile or smirk. ... I've wanted to wipe that smile off your face myself," she said, according to WCIV. "You are the biggest coward I have ever seen in my life because you can't be a man and look at us. ... It really shows the kind person you are, excuse me, the kind of animal you are. I have many choice words I would love to say to you, but God is working on me so I will not."

She said Roof's mission "failed" because the tragedy brought people closer together.

Rose Simmons, daughter of the slain Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., testified that "I loved my father. I was just like him. And I'm going to miss him and I will miss getting to know him all over again in my adult life. But I don't grieve so much for my father because I know he and his eight precious eternal comrades, they are at this very moment experiencing the greatest peace, and that's a peace not found here on this earth."

She said she's not surprised Roof hasn't shown accountability, sorrow or remorse. "I know at this time it's not there."

Rose Simmons said to Roof, according to WCIV, "I grieve for you because your heart refuses to recognizes and yield to this great power of forgiveness. ... I pray that one day when you meet Jesus Christ, our lord and savior, he will also extend to you his hand."

Rev. Simmons' son, Dan Simmons Jr., said to Roof, "I forgive you."

"I know that you don't understand that, but God requires me to forgive you. I forgive you. He also requires me to plead and pray for you, and I do that," Simmons Jr. said, according to WCIV. "Understand that as you have been judged, know that you have an opportunity to ask for forgiveness. Know that you can change your life. Stay focused. I guarantee if you choose to serve him you will have a better life."

U.S. Attorney Beth Drake of the District of South Carolina said Tuesday, "Motivated by racist hatred, Dylann Roof murdered and attempted to murder innocent African-American parishioners as they worshiped in the historic Mother Emanuel church."

"But, contrary to Roof’s desire to sow the seeds of hate, his acts did not tear this community apart. Instead of agitating racial tensions as he had hoped, Roof’s deadly attack inside Mother Emanuel became an attack on all of us, and the community stood in solidarity. Now, following a trial, the jury has rendered a sentence that underscores the severity of his crimes," Drake said. "We here in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice want to express our condolences to the victims and their loved ones, and to commend the dedication and hard work by the jury, the law enforcement officers that worked the case, the victim advocate team, and the court to ensure a fair and just process."

Roof's family said in a statement, "We will always love Dylann. We will struggle as long as we live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people. We wish to express the grief we feel for the victims of his crimes, and our sympathy to the many families he has hurt. We continue to pray for the Emanuel AME families and the Charleston community."

Roof's defense said in a statement that the "sentencing decision means that this case will not be over for a very long time. We are sorry that, despite our best efforts, the legal proceedings have shed so little light on the reasons for this tragedy."

Roof also faces a state trial in which he may again face the death penalty.