Chuck Burton / AP

Families forgive Charleston church shooting suspect

‘I forgive you,’ a victim’s daughter says to Dylann Roof, who faces nine counts of murder

The families of the victims in the fatal shooting of nine people during a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, gave emotional statements Friday, extending their forgiveness to the suspect, Dylann Roof, during his bond hearing.

"I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her ever again. But I forgive you," the daughter of Ethel Lance, one of the victims of Wednesday night's shooting, told Roof, who was emotionless as he appeared for the hearing via video link. 

"I forgive you, and my family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent," said Anthony Thompson, who was in the courtroom as a family representative for another victim, Myra Thompson. "Christ, he can change you, and he can change you no matter what happens to you."

Roof, 21, has been charged with nine counts of murder and will be held in custody until his next court appearance, Oct. 23. Roof was also charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, according to the Charleston Police Department. 

Dyalnn Roof's father, Ben Roof, told Al Jazeera on Friday that he and his daughter alerted police during the manhunt for his son. 

"My daughter and I called the hotline on Thursday morning to turn my son in," Ben Roof said. He also disputed earlier reports that he gave his son a .45 caliber gun as a birthday present. 

"I did not buy my son that gun. In fact, he used his own money. I did not buy that gun," he said. 

A judge set $1 million bond for Roof’s weapons charge. He does not have the authority to set bond on the nine murder counts. That will be left up to a circuit judge at a later date.

The hearing came as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Roof should face the death penalty if convicted.

"Watch how we handle him. That'll show you how we handle hate crimes in South Carolina, because you will see that we will push for the death penalty,” she said Friday while dodging a question regarding hate crime legislation in South Carolina. “We will make sure that we do everything we're supposed to, and we will show that that is not acceptable in South Carolina."

Meanwhile, Roof’s family members released a statement on Friday through their attorney, Boyd Young.

“Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night,” the statement reads. “We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. 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."

Gov. Haley: 'Watch how we handle him'

Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley briefly spoke to reporters on Friday, saying, "I personally am not a proponent of the death penalty" because he believes it "adds to violence" over time. But, he added, "if you're going to have a death penalty, then this case would warrant it." 

Some who gathered to grieve outside Emanuel Church on Thursday addressed their feelings toward Roof, with one woman telling The Guardian she was praying for the man believed to be responsible for the mass killing. 

"I'm just thinking that the devil stepped in," Avis Williamsgrant told the paper. "I'm praying for the young man also. We’re all God’s children, and even though he did what he did, he was just a little sick."

William Dudley Gregorie, a city councilman and trustee of Emanuel Church, said, "We’re not a church that hates. We’re a church that’s full of forgiveness."

Roof was arrested Thursday in North Carolina after being spotted by a woman on her way to work who tipped off police.

Citing law enforcement sources, various media outlets reported Friday that Roof has confessed to the killings. Charleston police told Al Jazeera that reports of the confession "absolutely did not" come from the department.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said Thursday that the suspect attended a prayer meeting at the Emanuel AME Church and stayed for almost an hour before opening fire on the nine victims, including the church's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Black churches around the U.S. said they would take precautions to increase security after the shooting. 

Police believe Roof, who authorities say was motivated by racial hatred against African-Americans, acted alone. An uncle of his said Roof, whose social media profile suggests a fascination with white supremacy, received a gun as a 21st birthday present in April.

Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Pinckney's, told MSNBC that a survivor of the shooting attack told her the gunman reloaded five times during the attack despite pleas for him to stop. “He just said, ‘I have to do it. You rape our women, and you're taking over our country,’” Johnson said. Police have not confirmed Johnson's statement.

Cornell William Brooks, the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Friday that the shooting was "unconscionable" and a "racial hate crime and must be confronted as such."

"We say this not because we’re trying to sow division but rather because we’re trying to sow unity — a unity of purpose, a unity of commitment, a unity of resolve so we can confront the racism in our midst," he said. 

The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of advocacy groups that includes Black Lives Matter and Ferguson Action, released a statement on Friday calling the attack "an undeniable act of terrorism" that was "intended to strike fear into the hearts of black communities." 

President Barack Obama touched briefly on the case Friday while speaking at an annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, saying that "racism remains a blight that we have to combat together."

State court records for Roof show a misdemeanor drug case from March that was pending against him and a misdemeanor trespassing charge from April. Authorities had no immediate details on those cases. It is not known whether Roof had previous cases against him as a juvenile, as juvenile records are usually sealed in South Carolina. Court records list no attorney for him.

Roof displayed a Confederate flag on his car plate, according to Kimberly Konzny, the mother of one of Roof's friends. His Facebook profile picture showed him wearing a jacket with patches of the flags of white-ruled Rhodesia (which became Zimbabwe in 1980) and apartheid-era South Africa.

In Montgomery, Alabama, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen, said it is unclear whether Roof had any connection to any of the 19 white supremacist organizations the center has identified as operating in South Carolina.

But Cohen said that, on the basis of Roof's Facebook page, he appeared to be a “disaffected white supremacist.”  

Al Jazeera and wire services. Philip J. Victor and David Douglas contributed to this report. 

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