Charleston shooting suspect has first court appearance, hears from families of victims who say “I forgive you”

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(CNN) – Accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof looked solemn as he appeared remotely by video before a judge Friday in a striped, button-down prison shirt, showing no emotion as some family members of victims addressed him — some expressing their anger, others saying they forgive him.

Magistrate James Gosnell Jr. informed Roof of what will happen next for him legally before Roof, in his first comments since being arrested, answered a number of basic questions regarding his age, address and employment status.  The magistrate set a $1 million bond for the weapons charge but said bond on the nine murder counts would be set by a circuit judge at a later date.

Relatives of some of the nine killed then addressed the court and Roof personally.

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance said. “And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

Felicia Sanders — the mother of victim Tywanza Sanders — said that “every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same.”

“As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you,” she said of Roof. “But may God have mercy on you.”

Roof admits he did it, two law enforcement officials said — shooting and killing nine people he’d sat with for Bible study at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

But why? To start a race war.  That’s what Roof told investigators, according to one of the officials.

CNN’s Evan Perez and Wesley Bruer were the first to report Roof’s confession. Others earlier gave a glimpse into his twisted motivation — including at the time and site of the shooting, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. There, a survivor told Sylvia Johnson that Roof answered one man’s pleas to stop by saying, “No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.”

A friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan “to do something crazy” in order “to start a race war.” And the Berkeley County, South Carolina, government tweeted a picture of him in a jacket with flags from apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that was ruled by a white minority until it became independent in 1980.

By telling authorities his aim, Roof admitted he attacked unarmed civilians for political purposes in an act of terror.

What led the 21-year-old South Carolinian to adopt this sick reasoning and take such actions Wednesday night? Did anyone else help him or even know about his plans? And what is his general mental state? All are major, looming questions. Another is what American society should or will do now, if anything, to prevent similar tragedies.

In the meantime, nine families are left to mourn and a community is left to come together, ideally, to heal.

“This hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea that he would be able to divide,” Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley said. “And all he did was make us more united, and love each other even more.”

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