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SC church massacre suspect appears in court

Reuters logo Reuters 6/19/2015 Harriet McLeod

Update: This is a developing story.

CHARLESTON, S.C., June 19 (Reuters) - Relatives of some of the nine black parishioners gunned down at a historic South Carolina church addressed on Friday the 21-year-old white man charged with murdering their loved ones, before a judge ordered him held without bail.

Dylann Roof, appearing in a video feed from the jail where he was brought after the end of a 14-hour manhunt on Thursday, stood quietly, looking down, as Judge James Gosnell ordered him held and victims' family members spoke.

"May God have mercy on your soul," said the mother of the youngest victim, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, while Roof looked on, expressionless.

The attack on Wednesday at Charleston's nearly-200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church came in a year that has seen waves of protest across the United States over police killings of unarmed black men in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, which have sparked some of the largest race riots since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Roof spoke little during the hearing, providing brief answers to the judge's questions, confirming his name and address and saying he was unemployed.

Judge Gosnell, who had no authority to release Roof on the nine murder charges he faces, set a bond of $1 million for the one gun charge he faces. Roof remains in custody.

From U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said the attack stirred memories of "a dark past," to residents on the streets of Charleston, Americans have expressed outrage at an act intended to provoke a "race war" in the United States.

This latest in a series of mass shootings that have rocked the United States also illustrated some of the risks posed by the nation's liberal gun laws, which gun-rights supporters say are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Alana Simmons, whose grandfather Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74, died in the attack, also expressed forgiveness.

"Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone's plea for your soul is proof, that they lived in love," Simmons said. "Their legacies will live in love so hate won't win. I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn't win."

In addition to church leader and Democratic state Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41, other victims included pastors DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, and Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45.

Also killed were Cynthia Hurd, 54, a public library employee; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70, and Myra Thompson 59, an associate pastor at the church, according to the county coroner.


Previous version below:

21-year-old Dylann Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder in connection with an attack on a historic black South Carolina church, police said on Friday.

Roof confessed to the attack and said he intended to set off new racial confrontations, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement source. He sat with parishioners through an hour of Bible study before opening fire, and almost did not go through with the attack because he had been welcomed, NBC News reported, citing a law enforcement source.

Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis declined to comment on the reports of a confession.

Roof is due to appear by video link to face a bail hearing on Friday and also faces a charge of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, the Charleston Police Department said.

Roof was arrested on Thursday in North Carolina, 220 miles (354 km) north of the nearly 200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where he is alleged to have shot dead nine black worshippers on Wednesday in a Bible-study group.

U.S. officials are investigating the shootings, in which four ministers including a Democratic state senator died, as a hate crime. They were the latest in a year of turmoil in the United States where police killings of several unarmed black men have provoked an angry national debate about race relations, policing and the criminal justice system.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a Democrat who is in his 40th year in office, said the attack would not divide the city of 128,000 people.

"A hateful person came to this community with a crazy idea he would be able to divide us and all he did was make us united and make us love each other even more," Riley said.


South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley told NBC's "Today" show she believed state prosecutors should pursue a death sentence.

"This is an absolute hate crime," said Haley, a Republican. "We've been talking with the investigators ...; they said they looked pure evil in the eye."

South Carolina is one of five U.S. states that do not have a hate crime law, which typically imposes additional penalties on crimes committed because of a victim's race, gender or sexual orientation.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday the attack stirred up "a dark part" of U.S. history and showed the continuing dangers of liberal gun laws, which gun-rights supporters say are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"The elephant in the room is guns. South Carolina and the country have gone gun-crazy," said state Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat who represents Charleston.

"How many times do we need to come together? How many times do we need to unite?"

The church, known as "Mother Emanuel", was founded in the early 19th century by black worshippers who were limited in how they could practice their faith at white-dominated churches. The church was rebuilt after being burned down in the late 1820s when one of its founders drafted plans for a slave revolt.

Compounding anger over the killings, the South Carolina capitol continues to fly the Confederate battle flag, the symbol of the pro-slavery South during the U.S. Civil War.

In addition to the church's leader and Democratic state Senator Clementa Pinckney, 41, victims included pastors DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; and Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74.

Also killed were Cynthia Hurd, 54, a public library employee; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Tywanza Sanders, 26; and Myra Thompson 59, an associate pastor at the church, according to the county coroner.

Area residents, including a group of nuns, filed past the church early Friday. Many tearfully offered prayers and left flowers near the yellow police tape behind which law enforcement agents were gathering evidence.

Social worker Jermaine Jenkins, 25, said he believed the outpouring of public grief and support showed that Roof had failed in his reported goal of sparking fresh racial unrest.

"I don't think he will succeed in creating a race war," said Jenkins, who is black.

Others expressed surprise that a man so young harbored such violent views.

"I grew up when racism was just a way of life," said Mary Meynardie, 90, who is white. "I wouldn't have been surprised if it was somebody 60, 70 years old who had that much hate, but where does this hate come from?"

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