Latest on church shooting: Obama marvels at forgiveness

AP News
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Posted: Jun 20, 2015 12:06 AM
Latest on church shooting: Obama marvels at forgiveness

10:20 p.m.

President Barack Obama is marveling at the willingness of relatives of the shooting victims at a historic black church to forgive the man accused of the killings.

Obama is calling it "an expression of faith that is unimaginable but that reflects the goodness of the American people."

Relatives of the nine people shot down during a Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, told suspect Dylann Storm Roof during an initial court appearance that they forgave him.

The president responded Friday night in San Francisco as he was raising money to benefit House Democratic candidates. He says the shooting is what he's been thinking about most in the past couple of days during a California fundraising swing.

Obama also repeated to the donors that mass shootings happen way too often. He said, "It's not enough for us to express sympathy; we have to take action."

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9:30 p.m.

A black drinking buddy of the white man accused of killing nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church says that a week before the attack, the suspect announced plans to shoot up a college campus.

Christon Scriven told The Associated Press on Friday that on June 10, while they were getting drunk on vodka, Roof announced plans to carry out a mass shooting seven days later at the College of Charleston.

Scriven says he thought the threat was just drunken bluster. Still, he and another friend, Joey Meek, were concerned enough that they went out to Roof's car and retrieved Roof's handgun, hiding it until they all sobered up.

Authorities say that on Wednesday, Roof fatally shot the pastor and eight others at the historic black Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. In interviews, Roof's friends described a troubled 21-year-old man who alternated between racist rants and partying with black friends.

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8:30 p.m.

The county magistrate judge who oversaw a hearing for the white man accused of killing nine people at a black church was previously reprimanded for saying a racial slur from the bench.

Charleston Chief Magistrate James B. Gosnell Jr. prompted controversy at a bond hearing for Dylann Roof on Friday when he asked for sympathy for Roof's family as well as the victims.

In 2005, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a public reprimand for misconduct to Gosnell. According to documents, in November 2003 Gosnell presided over a bond reduction hearing where he knew the defendant's father. Speaking to the black defendant, Gosnell told the man "there are four kinds of people in this world — black people, white people, red necks, and n-----."

In his defense, the judge said he was simply repeating a saying he had heard from a veteran sheriff's deputy who was black.

When coupled with a separate allegation that Gosnell had shown improper favoritism to another judge arrested for drunken driving, the justices voted to issue a public reprimand, specifically citing "his racial remark."

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7:30 p.m.

Thousands of people have gathered at a vigil in downtown Charleston to remember the nine people who were slain at a historic black church.

The throngs of people gathered on Friday night at the College of Charleston's arena. Some brought their children with them.

The Rev. Nelson Rivers of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston told victims' relatives to contact him if they needed anything - including a church for funeral services since theirs may be off limits during the investigation.

Rabbi Stephanie Alexander said the same hatred that killed four girls in Birmingham, Alabama, was responsible for the slayings more than 50 years later.

"How do we eradicate the hate? How do we eradicate the violence?" she said. "We search, but we search together."

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6:15 p.m.

The family of the man accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston says they are in shock and disbelief over the slayings.

Dylann Roof's family issued a statement through attorney Boyd Young on Friday. The statement says the family extends their "deepest sympathies and condolences to families of the victims."

The family is devastated and praying for peace and healing for the relatives of those slain, according to the statement.

The 21-year-old Roof, who is white, has been jailed on nine murder charges. Police have said he made racially charged remarks in the weeks before the shootings, and also made a racially inflammatory statement to a witness.

5:50 p.m.

President Barack Obama says it is not sufficient simply to grieve over the South Carolina church shootings.

Obama is making a vigorous new call for gun control after the deaths of nine at a black church in Charleston.

He says some have misinterpreted his comments at the White House Thursday to mean he's resigned that gun control isn't possible. He told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco on Friday that he is not resigned and has faith eventually the country will "do the right thing."

He says attitudes have to change among lawful gun owners as well as those unfamiliar with guns. He says Congress will act when the public insists on action — citing changing public opinion on gay marriage and climate change.

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4:25 p.m.

The chief prosecutor in Charleston County wants to talk to the families and review the evidence before making any decision on whether to seek the death penalty against a man charged with killing nine people at a Bible study inside a Charleston church.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson spoke to reporters but took no questions Friday. She says her office is working hand-in-hand with federal prosecutors, who are reviewing whether or not the shooting fits the federal definition of a hate crime.

The crime fits at least one of the reasons prosecutors can seek the death penalty in South Carolina — multiple people were killed in the same act. But Wilson says she always talks to families of victims before deciding whether to seek death.

Wilson's office also is prosecuting a white North Charleston police officer charged with murder in the shooting of an unarmed black motorist after a traffic stop in April.

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4 p.m.

Newly released police documents say the white man accused of killing nine people inside a black church stood over a witness and made a racially inflammatory remark.

Affidavits released Friday say 21-year-old Dylann Roof began shooting about an hour after he entered the Bible study at the church. It says he shot all nine victims multiple times, and that he stood over a witness and made the racial remark after the shooting.

The affidavits say Roof walked into the church around 8:06 p.m. Wednesday wearing a fanny pack, and that he walked out about an hour later holding a handgun.

The documents also say that Roof's father and uncle called authorities after seeing surveillance photos of him publicized. Roof's father told investigators his son owned a .45-caliber handgun, the affidavits say.

3:15 p.m.

The sister of one of the women killed inside a black church in Charleston says she is "very angry," but that her sister taught her that "we are the family that love built."

Bethane Middleton-Brown spoke Friday during a hearing for 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who is accused of killing nine people inside the church and faces nine counts of murder. Gov. Nikki Haley has called for him to face the death penalty.

Middleton-Brown's sister, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, was among the dead. She says her family has no room for hate and that they have to forgive. However, she also told Roof: "I also thank God I won't be around when your judgment day comes with him."

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3:05 p.m.

The woman who survived a shooting massacre at a historic black church in Charleston by playing dead even as her son was killed told the suspect that their Bible study welcomed him with open arms, but now she'll never be the same.

Felecia Sanders is the mother of Tywanza Sanders, who was one of the nine killed in Wednesday's shooting.

At Friday's bond hearing for 21-year-old Dylann Roof, she told him from as he appeared via video link at jail: "You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts."

She also said: "Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero."

According to a woman who spoke with her, Felecia Sanders has said she survived by playing dead as she lay on top of her granddaughter to protect her.

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3 p.m.

The husband of one of the women shot and killed at a historic black church in Charleston says he forgives the man accused of slaying her and eight others.

Anthony Thompson said during a court hearing Friday for the suspect, Dylann Roof, that he and his family forgive him. He asked the 21-year-old Roof to repent and confess, and to give his life to Christ. He says "do that and you'll be better off than you are right now."

Roof did not appear to react as the families gave their statements. He is charged with nine counts of murder, and Gov. Nikki Haley has called for him to face the death penalty.

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2:55 p.m.

The Justice Department says it is investigating the slayings at a black church in Charleston from all angles, including whether it could be a hate crime or domestic terrorism.

Agency spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement Friday that "heartbreaking episode was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community" and that the investigation is ongoing.

Authorities say 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire at a Bible study at the church, killing nine people. He has been charged with nine counts of murder, and the governor has called for him to face the death penalty.

A friend has said Roof had made racist statements in recent weeks, including saying that black people were taking over the country and that something needed to be done for the sake of whites.

2:45 p.m.

A judge has set a $1 million bond for a 21-year-old white man accused of fatally shooting nine people at a black church in Charleston.

The magistrate judge set the bond for a weapons charge but doesn't have the authority to set bond on the nine murder counts that Dylann Roof faces. That will be left up to a circuit judge at a later date.

Roof appeared by video and stared straight ahead as five victims' family members gave statements, some of them saying "hate won't win." Roof showed no reaction as they told him they would have mercy on him and that they forgave him.

The judge set the bond with the understanding that Roof will be held until his bond hearing on the murder charges.

Authorities say Roof opened fire at a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday night. He was at the prayer meeting for about an hour before he started shooting.

2:27 p.m.

The man accused of killing nine people inside a black church in Charleston has made his first court appearance, with the relatives of all the victims making tearful statements.

Dylann Roof appeared via video before a judge in South Carolina. He wore a jail jumpsuit and was handcuffed, and spoke only to answer questions. When asked his age, he told the judge he was 21. He also told the judge he was unemployed.

Relatives of the shooting victims also spoke at the hearing, with one victim's daughter sobbing as she said, "I forgive you."

The mother of Tywanza Sanders told Roof that "every fiber in my body hurts."

Roof did not react and appeared to show no emotion as the relatives spoke.

1:42 p.m.

The 21-year-old man accused of killing nine people at a black church in Charleston is being held in a cell next to the former North Charleston police officer who fatally shot a black man running away from him.

Charleston County sheriff's Maj. Eric Watson said Friday that Dylann Roof, who is accused in the church shooting, is in a cell next to former officer Michael Slager.

Slager has been charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott. Slager's shooting of a fleeing Scott following a traffic stop on April 4 was recorded on a bystander's cellphone.

Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder. He is being held in cell 1141B. Slager is in 1140B.

Each is alone is his cell. It's unlikely the two can talk to each other.

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1 p.m.

The head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is calling the slaying of nine people inside a black church an act of "racial terrorism" and says the Confederate flag flying on the South Carolina Capitol grounds in Columbia needs to come down.

NAACP President and CEO Rev. Cornell William Brooks made his remarks Friday in Charleston, two days after police say 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire on a Bible study at the Emanuel AME church in the city.

Brooks mentioned that Roof had a Confederate flag on his license plate and displayed symbols of racist regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia on a jacket he wore in a Facebook photo.

The NAACP has called for the flag's removal from the Statehouse grounds ever since it was taken down from the top of the Statehouse dome, where the American and state flags are flown. When the flag was moved from the dome to a Confederate soldier monument in front of the building, some called it a compromise, but the NAACP disagreed and wants it removed entirely from the grounds.

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12:30 p.m.

The white man accused of fatally shooting nine people during a Bible study at a black church had been arrested on a drug possession charge about four months ago after concerned workers reported he was acting erratically at a shopping mall.

A Columbia Police Department report from Feb. 28 says 21-year-old Dylann Roof was wearing all black in a shoe store and in Bath and Body Works, asking employees strange questions. The report says he asked how many people were working, when they closed and when they left their jobs.

The officer wrote that Roof appeared nervous and said he was being pressured by his parents to get a job, though he didn't ask either place for a job application. When the officer searched him, he found suboxone strips — typically used to treat addiction to heroin and other opiates

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12:15 p.m.

Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. says a fund has been set up to help the families of the nine victims of the shooting at a Charleston church, as well as the church itself.

Riley held a news conference Friday across the street from the church, where crime scene tape is still out front, along with dozens of bouquets of flowers.

Riley says people can contribute to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund at Wells Fargo bank branches, by mail, or — soon — online.

The fund will help with funerals, other family expenses, and work at the historic church.

Riley also encouraged people to attend a 6 p.m. Friday vigil and prayer service at the arena where the College of Charleston plays its basketball games.

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11:40 a.m.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. says that though he's not a proponent of the death penalty, it's the law in South Carolina and he expects it will be sought in the church shooting that killed nine people.

At a Friday news conference, he said: "If you are going to have a death penalty, certainly this case would merit it."

Earlier, Gov. Nikki Haley told NBC's "Today" show: "We will absolutely will want him to have the death penalty."

Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Roof is charged with nine counts of murder. He is scheduled for a bond hearing Friday afternoon but is likely to appear via video link from jail instead of in person in court.

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10:55 a.m.

A steady stream of people is visiting the memorial in front of the black church where authorities say a young white man slaughtered nine people during a Bible study.

Police tape still cordoned off the area Friday, and FBI agents were investigating in the back parking lot of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Eight vehicles have remained in the lot for some time.

A pile of flowers in front of the church is growing. Media trucks and reporters are set up along the road, and traffic slows as cars pass by the memorial. People on foot stop to take pictures with cellphones.

Authorities say 21-year-old Dylann Roof fatally shot nine people in the Charleston church on Wednesday night. Roof is charged with nine counts of murder.

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9:56 a.m.

Police in Charleston say the suspect in a fatal church shooting at a historic black church is charged with nine counts of murder and a weapon charge.

Police spokesman Charles Francis said Friday that 21-one-year-old Dylann Roof is charged with the 10 total counts in the Wednesday night fatal church shooting.

The weapon charge against Roof is possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Under South Carolina law, it's illegal to use a weapon such as a knife or gun to commit a violent crime whether or not the weapons is legally owned.

A bond hearing for Roof is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday.