South Carolina church shooter’s friend to serve time for lying, silence

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The South Carolina man who suspected his friend Dylann Roof was to blame for the June 2015 massacre at a historic black church but did not immediately call police and told others to stay silent was sentenced on Tuesday to more than two years in prison.

Joey Meek, 22, told authorities Roof revealed his plot during a cocaine and vodka-fueled night about a week before the shooting, which was one of several racially charged shootings in recent years that reopened debate about race relations and gun control laws in the United States.

Roof, who is white, told Meek he wanted to start a race war by killing black people at a church, court records show.

But after Roof opened fire during a Bible study meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, slaying nine parishioners, Meek, who is also white, did not promptly report what he knew, prosecutors said.

With Roof on the run, Meek also instructed others not to contact police and later denied to federal agents that he had knowledge of Roof’s plans.

“He knew who it was,” U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston said before sentencing Meek to 27 months in prison. “He put his own interests ahead of the known dangers to the community.”

Prosecutors had sought a stiffer penalty than the 27 to 33 months federal sentencing guidelines called for. Meek was the only other person charged in the shooting. He pleaded guilty in April 2016 to charges of concealing knowledge of the crime and lying to investigators. He agreed to cooperate.

Meek was not called to testify at his childhood friend’s trial. Roof was sentenced to death in January after being convicted of 33 charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion resulting in death.

The government argued law enforcement could have tried to prevent Roof’s attack had Meek alerted them.

Meek’s lawyer Deborah Barbier said in court papers that her client, who had a ninth-grade education and history of mental health and substance abuse problems, should not be treated as though he was guilty of Roof’s crimes.

Gergel, who oversaw Roof’s trial, said Meek’s criminal behavior did not begin until after the shooting.

With about a dozen members of the victims’ families in court, Meek read a statement expressing his remorse for not taking Roof more seriously.

“I didn’t believe he could do something so awful and cruel,” he said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Andrew Hay and Grant McCool)

Jury condemns Dylann Roof to death for South Carolina church massacre

family members of the victims of the Charleston massacre waiting outside courthouse

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – White supremacist Dylann Roof deserves to die for the hate-fueled killings of nine black churchgoers at a Bible study meeting in a Charleston, South Carolina, a U.S. jury said on Tuesday after deliberating for less than three hours.

The same jury last month found Roof, 22, guilty of 33 federal charges, including hate crimes resulting in death, for the shocking mass shooting at the landmark Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015.

Roof, who represented himself and did not argue against the death penalty, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

Prosecutors said he planned the shooting for months, intending to incite racial violence by targeting the oldest African-American congregation in the U.S. South.

“He decided the day, the hour and the moment that my sister was going to die, and now someone is going to do the same for him,” Melvin Graham, brother of shooting victim Cynthia Hurd, 54, said outside the federal courthouse in the heart of historic Charleston’s downtown district.

Roof will be formally sentenced on Wednesday. He also faces the death penalty if convicted of murder charges in a pending state trial.

Whether he was competent to serve as his own attorney will be a fundamental issue in the appeals process, Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said in a telephone interview.

Roof did not present any evidence during the penalty phase that began last week or allow jurors to hear details about his mental health. Dunham said defense lawyers likely will use the trial to show appellate judges that mental illness prevented him from adequately representing himself.

“We are sorry that, despite our best efforts, the legal proceedings have shed so little light on the reasons for this tragedy,” Roof’s lawyers, who represented him for the guilt phase, said in a statement.

Roof was unrepentant during his short closing argument, telling jurors he still felt the massacre was something he had to do.

“Anyone who hates anything has good reason for it,” he said. “I have a right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good that will do anyone.”

On June 17, 2015, Roof sat for 40 minutes with parishioners gathered for a Bible study meeting before opening fire as they closed their eyes to pray, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said in his final statement to jurors.

Roof pulled the trigger 75 times as he methodically killed Hurd; Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church’s pastor and a state senator; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Myra Thompson, 59; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and Tywanza Sanders, 26.

Jurors heard four days of heartrending testimony from more than 20 of the victims’ loved ones, who described their legacies of faith and the devastation wrought by Roof’s brutality.

“What’s wrong here is the calculated racism, the choice to target a church, particularly the people in a church,” Richardson told jurors. “What’s wrong here is precisely why this is a case that justifies the death penalty.”

(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein and Jon Herskovitz; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Alan Crosby and Jonathan Oatis)

Exclusive: White House plans community-based prevention of violent ideologies

White House

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new White House plan aims to train teachers and mental health professionals to intervene and prevent Americans from turning to violence ideologies, work now mostly done by law enforcement, a draft of the policy seen by Reuters to be announced on Wednesday shows.

The 18-page plan marks the first time in five years the Obama administration has updated its policy for preventing the spread of violent groups, such as those that motivated the perpetrators of attacks in the last year in Charleston, South Carolina, San Bernardino, California, Orlando, Florida, New York and New Jersey.

A self-styled white supremacist shot dead nine black people inside a historic African-American church in Charleston and the other shootings and bombs were inspired by Islamist militants, who have carried out attacks on civilians in several countries.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have questioned Department of Homeland Security officials over the delay in updating its approach to countering recruitment strategies by Islamic State, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, and other groups.

Congress does not have the authority to reject the plan, but they could withhold funding to see that it is not fully implemented.

Civil liberties groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have criticized the current model as one that creates distrust in Muslim communities in the United States. Federal prosecutors, who are charged with conducting terrorism investigations, also lead prevention efforts.

Prosecutors would still have a role in prevention efforts under the new policy, including arranging after-school programs, but they would not be allowed to use those settings for intelligence gathering.

In Minneapolis, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger prosecuted 10 Somali-American men earlier this year for plotting to fight with the Islamic State overseas while simultaneously leading community outreach efforts with the same Somali community.

Studies have shown family members and friends are most likely to notice a loved one may be considering violence, the policy explains. But some may be reluctant to report the behavior to law enforcement.

“Successful efforts to counter violent extremism are, in large part, predicated on trust,” the policy states.

Under the new guidelines, “local intervention teams” made up of mental health professionals, faith-based groups, educators and community leaders will assess the needs of individuals who may be showing signs of converting to a violent ideology.

Local law enforcement officers may also be part of the team, but not federal prosecutors.

“We determined that efforts to build intervention teams are less likely to succeed if they are driven by the federal government,” said Brette Steele, acting deputy director of the U.S. government’s Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, suggesting instead the teams should be community-led.

Only when a person is believed to “pose a threat or be immediately capable of committing a crime,” should law enforcement actions be taken, the policy states.

The policy also calls on the Justice Department to implement rehabilitation strategies that could include using former violent converts as counselors for those convicted of terrorism.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards, Editing by Tim Ahmann and Grant McCool)

Charleston marks anniversary of church shootings with memorial

Members of AME church walk down Meeting Street to a memorial ceremony marking the first anniversary of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The city of Charleston came together on Friday for a memorial and other events to mark the first anniversary of the murders of nine members of a Bible study group in what prosecutors called a racially motivated hate crime.

The events were made even more poignant coming less than a week after a gunman slaughtered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, marking the largest of many mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

Security was tight for the service at the TD Arena, where a stage was fronted by banner portraits of each of the nine victims and backed by the flags of many countries.

President Barack Obama had eulogized the victims of the rampage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including its slain minister and state Senator Clementa Pinckney, in the same arena last year.

Hymns were led by a 100-member choir and a minister prayed for the Charleston and Orlando victims, as well as for the soul of the accused church shooter, Dylann Roof.

Roof, 22, could face the death penalty on state murder charges and federal hate crime charges. Roof is white, while his victims were African American and the federal indictment against him said he acted out of racism.

Charleston State Senator Marlon Kimpson urged lawmakers to address gun control after so much bloodshed.

“He (Roof) was a home-grown terrorist filled with hate right here in South Carolina,” Kimpson told the congregation.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley showed the programs from nine funeral she has kept since last summer, and spoke about faith and each victim. She recalled how they welcomed Roof and prayed with him for an hour before they were killed.

“Tywanza Sanders stood in front of his 87-year-old aunt and looked the murderer in the eye and said, ‘You don’t have to do this. We mean you no harm,'” Haley said. “I will always talk about these people who changed my life.”

As well as the memorial, events including Bible study sessions, a prayer breakfast and tree plantings will take place around Charleston. The church also will open its doors to religious leaders and elected officials from around the nation on Friday afternoon.

The church has had many visitors in the past year, Emanuel’s new pastor, the Reverend Dr. Betty Deas Clark, told Reuters during a recent Bible study meeting in the room where the massacre took place.

“I believe we’re moving forward … Forgiveness is the message of the hour,” Clark said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)

A year later, Charleston families still reeling from church shooting

Emanuel African Methodist Church

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Many were surprised when Nadine Collier stood in a South Carolina courtroom a year ago and said she forgave the young white man who had just killed her mother and eight other black churchgoers in a racially motivated attack.

Collier’s sister, the Reverend Sharon Risher, recalls wondering how she could so readily absolve Dylann Roof, 22, the man accused of opening fire during a Bible study on June 17, 2015, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Ahead of the first anniversary on Friday, Risher and some others affected by the killings still cannot bring themselves to forgive. Roof will go on trial in November on federal hate crime charges that could result in a death sentence before facing state murder charges in January.

“I’m not bitter,” Risher, 57, said in a phone interview. “But I’m just not ready to forgive you if you don’t even act like you want to be forgiven.”

One year after that attack, the nation is again reeling from gun violence. The deaths of 49 people in Orlando this week in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history has left dozens more families blindsided by tragedy.

There will be no criminal proceedings for the Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, who died in a gunfight with police. And while the shooting inside the historic church led to the removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s capitol, it remains to be seen whether the latest massacre will spur change.

Away from the spotlight, the stories of those personally touched by the violence in Charleston illustrate its lasting impact. It continues to affect their lives, they said, straining family relationships, shifting career paths and leaving voids in their lives that no form of justice can fill.

Risher left her emergency room chaplain job in Dallas this spring, finding its emotional demands to be too much as she grieves her mother, Ethel Lance.

Some members of her family have become estranged in the aftermath of the shooting, she said, as each person mourns differently and struggles to make sense of what happened.

Risher longs for the days when she used to lie in her mother’s king-sized bed and they talked until one of them fell asleep.

“Charleston does not hold the same magic for me anymore,” she said. “Now going back, it’s just a cloud that hangs over. Even though the sun is shining, to me I see the gray.”


The Reverend Anthony Thompson’s wife, Myra, was killed in the attack, but he said he began to heal when he offered forgiveness to Roof at the bond hearing two days after the shooting.

Thompson, 65, has not attended subsequent hearings, choosing instead to focus on his preaching and new work advocating against gun violence.

“Dylann is not a part of my life or the life of my children,” he said. “That’s why we forgave him so that we can move on. We’re through with him.”

Alana Simmons, 26, lost her grandfather, the Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., in the shooting and her professional life changed course after that. The middle school music teacher moved from Virginia to South Carolina to run the Hate Won’t Win Movement, a non-profit organization that advocates for unity in a diverse society.

Focusing on the good to come from the tragedy helps her cope, she said.

“I don’t think that I could harbor hate in my heart and then go out and preach love,” she said.

Arthur Hurd, 46, remains angry. Angry at the church for keeping some of the more than $3 million in donations it received rather than distributing it all to the survivors and victims’ families. Angry that whether or not Roof gets the death penalty, it will not bring Hurd’s wife, Cynthia, back.

He has not returned to his job as a merchant mariner since her death. A grief counselor told him he is not ready, Hurd said.

“The only way I can jump for joy for the death penalty is if I am the one pulling the switch,” he said. “I have a hole in my chest, in my heart and my soul big enough that you could ride a freight train through it.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott)

Charleston AME Church Holds First Service Since Shooting

The Charleston AME church has had their first service since the horrific, race motivated killings of nine church members during a bible study.

“The doors of the church are open. No evildoer, no demon in hell or on Earth can close the doors of God’s church,” Rev. Norvel Goff Sr., a presiding elder of the 7th District AME Church in South Carolina, told the congregation, according to CNN.

The gunman, Dylann Roof, claimed that he wanted to “start a race war.”  Roof also reportedly said the church was a secondary target; that he initially considered attacking the College of Charleston.

“It’s by faith that we are standing here and sitting here,” Goff said during the service. “It has been tough. It has been rough. Some of us have been downright angry. But through it all God has sustained us. … Lots of folks expected us to do something strange and break out in a riot. Well, they just don’t know us.”

The new interim leader added, “We have shown the world how we as a group of people can come together and pray and work out things that need to be worked out.”

Goff will remain at the church until a new pastor is named.

Pastors from around the community came together to rally around the church.

“As a pastor in this city, a husband and a father to two boys and two girls, my heart broke in grief and disbelief,” Rev. Brandon Bowers, a white man who is the lead pastor of Awaken, said. “What the enemy intended for evil, God is using for good. We are here to pray for the healing that needs to come.”

Leaders in South Carolina are now calling for the banning of the Confederate flag in the wake of the shooting.  The hanging of the flag in the state’s capitol has become a serious point of contention.

“The Confederate battle flag, years and years ago, was appropriated as a symbol of hate,” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley said, and having it fly at the state Capitol “at best sends mixed messages to those who want to understand it as a part of history.”