‘I had to do it,’ accused gunman Dylann Roof says of SC church attack

Emanuel African Methodist Church

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Jurors in the federal hate crimes trial of Dylann Roof watched a video on Friday of the avowed white supremacist confessing to killing nine parishioners at a historic black church in South Carolina and saying he felt he “had to do it.”

Roof told investigators after his arrest for the June 17, 2015, massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that he estimated he had killed five people as retribution for perceived racial grievances. He sounded surprised to learn nine parishioners died.

“I had to do it because somebody had to do it,” Roof said in the taped confession.

Asked if he had regrets, Roof said, “I’d say so, yes … I regret that I did it, a little bit.”
Roof’s lawyers have not disputed his guilt but hope to spare him from being executed on charges of hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations.

Roof, 22, also faces a death sentence if found guilty of murder charges in state court.

Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina,

Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, U.S., June 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Miczek/File Photo

The videotaped confession, presented on the third day of his federal trial in Charleston, gave jurors a chance to hear the defendant explain why he carried out the attack on a Bible study meeting.

He appeared both animated and at ease as he spoke to investigators, laughing at times as he answered their questions.

Roof spoke with investigators in Shelby, North Carolina, where he was arrested about 13 hours after security video showed him leaving the church.

Inside his car, police said they found a journal where Roof wrote of his dreams for a race war and notes he wrote to his parents.

“Dear Mom, I love you,” read one note presented to jurors. “I’m sorry for what I did. I know this will have repercussions.”

In the video, Roof said white people needed to take a stand against crimes by African Americans.

“I don’t like what black people do,” Roof said, adding he was in favor of reinstating segregation.

He chose the Charleston church for the shooting because he knew “at least a small amount of black people” would be gathered there. Two adults and a child at the Bible study survived.

“It’s like this,” Roof said. “I’m not in a position, by myself, to go into a black neighborhood and shoot drug dealers.”

Nobody ran when he opened fire, he said, and he recalled pausing between shots.

“I was thinking about what I should do,” he said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott and Andrew Hay)

Accused church gunman Dylann Roof to represent himself

Dylann Storm Roof appears by closed-circuit television at his bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist accused of murdering nine black parishioners at a historic Charleston, South Carolina church last year, began acting as his own lawyer at his federal death penalty proceedings on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel granted Roof’s request to represent himself at trial but told the defendant it was unwise to cast aside his seasoned attorneys.

Roof, 22, did not say why he wanted to take the lead in his case. The move could give him the opportunity to question the survivors of the shooting if they are called as witnesses.

Roof also faces 33 counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms charges stemming from the shooting, which occurred during a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015.

Prosecutors, who say he planned the attack for months, are seeking the death penalty.

Gergel ruled on Friday that Roof was mentally competent to stand trial, following concerns raised by defense attorneys about their client’s ability to understand the nature of the proceedings against him and to assist in his own defense.

That decision paved the way for jury selection to resume on Monday after a temporary delay this month for a competency evaluation and hearing. Then, in another twist, Gergel said he received a motion from Roof late Sunday seeking to represent himself.

In a Charleston courtroom, the judge asked Roof a series of questions to determine whether he understood the charges, the punishment he faced and the trial duties he was undertaking.

Roof, dressed in a striped gray and white prison jumpsuit, answered “Yes” or “Yes, sir.”

“I find that his decision is knowing, intelligent and voluntary,” the judge said.

Gergel instructed Roof’s legal team to remain on standby, including lead defense lawyer David Bruck, who is considered an expert in death penalty cases.

Once jury questioning got under way, Roof mostly responded “no” each time the judge asked if he had any follow-up questions or objections to potential jurors.

Gergel dismissed several people who expressed conflicted feelings about capital punishment or said a death sentence should always be the penalty for murder.

One woman said she could be fair and impartial but admitted being sickened by the crime, which shook the country and stoked a debate over U.S. race relations. Gergel struck the woman from serving as a juror.

Twelve jurors and six alternates will be chosen to hear testimony.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. seeking death penalty as trial begins in South Carolina church shooting

Dylann Roof is seen in this June 18, 2015 handout booking photo provided by Charleston County Sheriff's Office. REUTERS/Charleston County Sheriff's Office

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The final phase of jury selection begins on Monday in the U.S. death penalty trial for a white man charged with federal hate crimes after the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a historic South Carolina church last year.

Dylann Roof, who is accused of holding white supremacist views, was indicted on 33 federal counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and using a firearm in a violent crime after he opened fire during a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015.

The proceedings getting underway at the U.S. courthouse in Charleston will unfold as another racially-charged trial progresses across the street. Michael Slager, a white former police officer in North Charleston, is being tried for murder in state court in the shooting of black motorist Walter Scott in April 2015.

The two incidents, which occurred just two months apart, shook the country and further intensified the debate over U.S. race relations.

In Roof’s case, lawyers could take about two weeks to cull the remaining potential jurors. More than 700 people filled out questionnaires about the case when jury selection began in September, out of 3,000 summoned for the trial. Twelve jurors and 6 alternates will hear the testimony.

If Roof is convicted, the penalty phase of the trial could extend into January. Roof, 22, has offered to plead guilty if the death penalty was dropped, court filings show.

He also faces a death sentence if found guilty of murder in state court in a trial scheduled for next year.

Prosecutors say Roof planned the church attack for months, singling out victims who were black and elderly, and showing no remorse. At the federal trial, they plan to present racist manifestos that he purportedly wrote in an effort to incite a race war.

Roof’s attorneys declined to comment ahead of the trial, and his family has asked for privacy.

“We are still struggling to understand why Dylann caused so much grief and pain to so many good people,” the family said in a statement last week.

Relatives of the victims have been divided on the decision to seek capital punishment, after some tearfully offered words of forgiveness during Roof’s first court appearance.

The city plans an outpouring of support during the trial, with restaurants donating daily lunches to family members attending court.

“How they chose to respond to the tragedy made the difference,” said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They are a model of how you can truly bring about long-lasting change.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bernard Orr)

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)

California Man Offers Free Gun Safety Classes to Church Personnel

A Northern California man is reportedly offering free gun safety classes to religious leaders.

Geof Peabody, who owns a gun range in Placerville, near Sacramento, told CBS News that he’s provided the training to some 500 ministers and church security teams over the past eight years.

“Safe and saved,” Peabody told CBS News. “We can accomplish both with the right training.”

Sacramento television station KOVR also covered Peabody’s story, reporting that the owner saw “a dramatic increase” in interest in recent months. Peabody told KOVR a recent class attracted nine different churches, who collectively sent about 25 students to learn introductory training.

The classes cover more than firing weapons. Peabody told KOVR he also teaches his clients certain defense techniques, which can be used to stop someone else from shooting.

The news comes at a time when America is feeling particularly jittery.

A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, conducted in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shootings, found that 47 percent of Americans believe they or someone in their family will be the victim of a terrorist attack. And data available on Google’s website indicates that more Americans have performed searches for concealed carry permits, which allow people to carry hidden handguns in public, this month than they have at any other point in the past 11 years.

CBS News reported Peabody’s graduates can carry concealed weapons, and many of them bring their guns to church. In addition to San Bernardino, another incident is undoubtedly fresh in the minds of some of the church personnel who receive training from Peabody. Nine people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, back in June.

But there is conflicting evidence on whether concealed carry permits actually curb gun violence, particularly in chaotic active-shooter situations like those in San Bernardino and Charleston, as well as conflicting ideologies about whether firearms belong in church under any circumstance.

Woman Brings “The Power of Pies” to Charleston Church Targeted by Gunman

A Minnesota woman has taken what she calls “something sweeter than pie” to the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, site of a shooting during a Bible study that left 9 people dead: Love.

Rose McGee traveled over 1,000 miles from her home in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota to bring hand made “comfort pies” to the Bible Study that resumed at the historic church after the deadly attack in June.

“As far as I am concerned, it’s the sacred dessert of black culture, a comfort sweet potato pie, which means when you have this, it just soothes the soul,” said McGee.

“I actually was just sitting in my living room watching television as everybody else was and became very frustrated, about everything and decided to get up, went into the kitchen and started making pies.”

McGee, who grew up in Tennessee, said the pies are a recipe handed down through her family beginning with her great-grandmother.

McGee has donated pies to other communities that have faced tragedy over the years and found that the pies could bring healing and promote community.

McGee admitted being a little nervous about sending her pies to the Charleston church.

“I’m really holding my breath and hoping the people of Charleston will like this pie,” said McGee. “Because South Carolina is a place where sweet potato pies are done right.”

“All I can say it’s amazing what happens when people come together,” added McGee.

Woman Who Found Church Gunman Credits God

The woman who spotted the South Carolina church shooter at a stoplight in North Carolina says it was God that put her in that place at that time.

Debbie Dills says when she looked beside her at the stoplight and noticed the bowl haircut on the white man driving a black Hyundai there was a disturbance in her spirit.

“At first I thought, nah, it couldn’t be,” Dills said. “I didn’t want to overreact.”

South Carolina license plate. “In my mind I’m thinking, ‘That can’t be.’ … I never dreamed that it would be the car.”

Dills, a part-time minister of music, had been devastated by the tragedy and had been praying for the victims of the event as she drove on.  She pulled off the highway and called her boss to ask him what to do.

“I was nervous, I was scared, I’m normally not that kind of person, and I got back on the bypass to go see just if I could get a tag number, just to see — just had a feeling and I’m sure that was divine intervention,” she told TODAY. “I feel like God has his hand in it and that he had me where I needed to be.”

Roof confessed to the killings after being taken in custody.  He claimed that he was targeting blacks because he felt blacks were taking over the country.

State prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.

Gospel Singer Shares Message Of Love On Charleston Shooter’s Facebook Profile

Marcus Stanley, a victim of gun violence, showed the world a message of grace and forgiveness in a Facebook comment that has gone viral.

“I love you Dylann… even in the midst of the darkness and pain you’ve caused.”

The Facebook comment was found on the barren profile of Dylann Storm Roof, the suspect of the Charleston shooting. Stanley posted the message before Roof was captured Thursday morning in hopes that he would see it.

“I don’t look at you with the eyes of hatred, or judge you by your appearance or race, but I look at you as a human being that made a horrible decision to take the lives of 9 living & breathing people,” Stanley, a 30-year-old gospel singer, wrote on Roof’s Facebook. “Children do not grow up with hatred in their hearts. In this world we are born color blind. Somewhere along the line, you were taught to hate people that are not like you, and that is truly tragic.”

In 2004, Stanley was shot eight times by a gang during an initiation rite on the streets of Baltimore. CBN News reported that he had lost feeling in his right hand. A few months later, he turned to God and was able to forgive the man that pulled the trigger, according to his Facebook page.

Stanley even encouraged the young man to accept Jesus into his heart and be forgiven.

“Give your heart to Jesus and confess your sins with a heart of forgiveness. He is the only one that can save your soul and forgive you for the terrible act that you have done. I love you Dylann…but more importantly HE loves you.”

Marveled by Stanley’s compassion for Roof, other Facebook users have shared the post nearly 28,000 times.