CHARLESTON, S.C. — One by one, family members of nine slain black parishioners confronted Dylann Roof for the last time Wednesday, shouting at him, offering forgiveness and even offering to visit him in prison as he awaits execution for the slaughter.
The 22-year-old avowed white supremacist refused to meet their gaze and simply stared ahead, his head tilted down slightly as it had been for much of his trial.
“Dylann,” Janet Scott said quietly as she started speaking. “Dylann! DYLANN!” she said, her voice rising. Toward the end of her remarks, she said, “I wish you would look at me, boy.”
Scott, an aunt of 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders demanded that Roof look at her as she talked about her nephew’s “great big heart,” which could not be donated because of the police investigation.
The final statements came a day after jurors sentenced an unrepentant Roof to death. The gunman had one final opportunity to ask for mercy but instead told jurors he still “felt like I had to do it.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel formally confirmed the sentence, saying “This hate, this viciousness, this moral depravity will not go unanswered.”
Some family members already testified at Roof’s trial. The formal sentencing hearing gave 35 of them a chance to speak directly to him, without prosecutors or the judge interrupting or asking questions.
Roof also had an opportunity to speak but declined to say anything. He is the first person ordered executed for a federal hate crime.
Sheila Capers, the sister-in-law of Cynthia Hurd, said she prayed for Roof’s soul to be saved.
“If at any point before you are sentenced and you’re in prison and you want me to come and pray with you, I will do that,” Capers said.
Felicia Sanders, who survived the attack, said she forgave Roof, repeating comments she made after the shooting. But, she noted, Roof did nothing to save himself.
He served as his own attorney during the sentencing phase and never explained the massacre, expressed remorse or asked for his life to be spared.
Sanders brought the bullet-torn, bloodstained Bible she had with her on the night of the June 17, 2015. She told Roof he still lives in her head, and that when she hears a balloon pop or fireworks, it returns her to that night.
“Most importantly, I can’t shut my eyes to pray,” Sanders said.
On the night of the shooting, Roof sat through a 45-minute Bible study session at the black church known as Mother Emanuel with 12 others. He opened fire as they stood and closed their eyes for a final prayer. In all, he fired 77 shots. Each victim was hit at least five times.
Three people survived. Roof told one of them he was sparing her life so she could tell the world he was killing the worshippers at Emanuel AME because he hated black people.
“You are Satan. Instead of a heart, you have a cold, dark space,” Gracyn Doctor, the daughter of DePayne Middleton-Doctor, said, expressing hope that Roof would “go straight to hell.”
Roof, who also faces murder charges in state court, plans to appeal the federal case. Prosecutors say he will remain jailed in Charleston until the state charges are resolved. No trial date has been set.