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"Every Fiber In My Body Hurts": Charleston Church Survivor Confronts Alleged Gunman In Court

Family members of some of the nine people Dylann Roof is charged with shooting and killing during a Bible study group said they "forgive" him at an emotional court hearing on Friday.

Posted on June 19, 2015, at 4:52 p.m. ET

A witness to the Charleston church massacre and several family members of the victims had a dramatic and tearful encounter with the 21-year-old accused shooter at his court hearing Friday, saying they "forgive" him and that he needed to "repent" for his alleged crime.

Sisters, mothers, husbands, daughters, and sons of the victims wept as they addressed Dylann Roof, who appeared stoic and emotionless in a holding chamber while flanked by armed guards wearing military-style vests.

Roof is accused of entering the African Methodist Episcopal Church around 8 p.m. wearing a fanny pack, according to court records. He sat in a Bible study group for about an hour before suddenly pulling out a .45-caliber handgun, an arrest warrant states.

At one point he stood over a witness and uttered a racial slur, according to the warrants.

"We welcomed you into Bible study with open arms," said Felicia Sanders, the mother of the youngest victim, Tywanza Sanders.

Felicia Sanders reportedly survived the shooting by playing dead. She also saved her granddaughter's life by laying motionless over her body.

"You killed some of the most beautiful people I know," Felicia Sanders said, referring to her 26-year-old son who died while trying to save his 87-year-old aunt, Susie Jackson, who was also killed. Jackson's cousin, Ethel Lance, was also killed in the attack.

"Every fiber in my body hurts and I'll never be the same," Sanders said as she broke down crying. "He was my son; he was my hero."

She concluded her statement with something they always said at Bible study: "May god have mercy on you."

Judge James Gosnell surprisingly began the proceedings by reminding people that the alleged shooter has a family too.

"Charleston is a very strong community. We have big hearts. We are a very loving community. And we are going to reach out to everyone, all victims, and we will touch them."

"We have victims, nine of them," Gosnell said before Roof appeared. "But we also have victims on the other side. There also victims on this young man's side of the family. No one would have ever thrown them into the whirlwind of events that they have been thrown into."

He then questioned Roof, marking his first public statements after the attack.

"Is your address 10428 Garners Ferry Rd., Eastover, South Carolina?" the judge asked Roof.

"Yes, sir," he answered from a television screen.

"What is your age?"


"Are you employed?"

"No, sir."

"So you are unemployed."

"Yes, sir."

Gosnell could not set bond for Roof's nine murder charges and set $1 million bond for a gun charge.

A representative from each victim's family was given the chance to speak.

"I just want to say I forgive you," said the daughter of Ethel Lance, the 70-year-old sexton at the church who died in the attack.

"I will never talk to her ever again, I will never hold her again, but I forgive you. You hurt me. You hurt other people. But I forgive you," she said.

Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of Rev. Daniel Simmons who died in the shooting, said, "Hate won't win."

"Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate ... they lived in love," she said. "Everyone's plea for your soul is proof they lived and loved."

And Anthony Thompson, the husband of 59-year-old victim Myra Thompson, also told Roof he forgave him. "I forgive you. My family forgives you," he said as his voice broke.

He told Roof to repent, to confess, and to give his life to Christ so that "he can change you, and he can change your ways, no matter what happened to you."

The sister of Rev. DePayne Middleton, a victim, thanked the court for "not allowing hate to win."

"I am very angry," she said, as she was overcome with grief. But she said the one thing her sister taught her was, "We are the family that love built. We have no room for hate."

The family of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the church's reverend who also died in the attacks, did not send a representative.

Here is a video of the full proceedings:

View this video on YouTube

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.