COLUMBIA –– Relatives of some of the nine churchgoers shot dead in South Carolina have addressed the suspected gunman in court and said they forgive him.
Dylann Roof, 21, appeared in court in Charleston to face nine murder charges.
He showed no emotion as relatives of the victims addressed him directly. “I forgive you,” said one victim’s daughter, fighting back tears.
Police are treating the killings at the African American church on Wednesday night as a hate crime.
And the Justice Department says it is investigating whether it might have been an act of domestic terrorism.
It said in a statement, the shooting was “designed to strike fear and terror into this community”, and the department was considering all possibilities.
In court in Charleston this afternoon, the 21-year-old Roof spoke to confirm his name, age and address and said he was unemployed.
Then relatives were invited by the judge to come forward and speak.
A woman who identified herself as the daughter of Ethel Lance said: “You took something very precious from me. 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.”
Anthony Thompson, a relative of Myra Thompson, told Roof to repent and to turn to Jesus Christ.
“I forgive you and my family forgives you,” he said.
The judge set Roof’s bond at US$1 million for the weapons possession charge but could not place a bond on the murder charges due to a legal technicality.
Roof will now remain in jail, at least until a high court sets the bond for the murder charges.
This was Roof’s first court appearance in South Carolina since the shooting on Wednesday night.
He is accused of opening fire on a Bible study group, killing nine people.
The state’s governor has called for him to face the death penalty.
A day after the attack, he was arrested 200 miles away in Shelby, North Carolina.