The Demise of Dylann Roof

Bravo, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel and the South Carolina jury, for giving Dylann Roof an appropriate sentence for his crime.  Roof, who identifies himself as a white supremacist, was on a mission to start a race war by killing nine innocent people who were quietly praying.

Dylann Roof was convicted in December on 33 counts by the federal government. Today, he was sentenced to death and the families could give impact statements. Roof apparently stared straight ahead, refusing to look them in the eye. Perhaps that shows some kind of decency, but at first blush, it sounds very cowardly.


Everyone knows the story, but here goes: Roof showed up at AME Emmanuel Baptist church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine strangers, including some senior citizens, were kind enough to invite him to join them. He sat with them for an hour. When they rose to pray, he opened fire with his .45-caliber Glock and killed:

  • Rev. Clementa Pinckney
  • Rev. Daniel Simmons
  • Susie Jackson
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor
  • Cynthia Hurd
  • Myra Thompson
  • Ethel Lance
  • Tywanza Sanders

Nobody ever imagined that Roof could be innocent. He freely admitted his guilt and said his motive was to spark a race war. What he could ever have gained from that is unclear, but he has shown no regret over his actions.

A journal he kept after being arrested reads, “I am not sorry.”


Let me throw out an unconventional idea. Many crimes are senseless and cruel but I am not completely satisfied with the “race war” explanation. It does not ring true. No one is ever going to look at this crime and say, “I see where he’s coming from.” No, this is a crime that unites black and white people in sorrow and revulsion. Dylann Roof may not be too sharp, but he probably isn’t that stupid. What I’ve been wondering – I’m being sincere – is whether he might be possessed by some demon or malignant spirit.

I still remember those families coming forward and forgiving him. I’ve never seen anything like it. I respect them enormously but Can’t imagine that kind of forgiveness.

I worried that Roof, the 22-year-old mass murderer, would be shown some kind of extra consideration because of his young age. But the judge and jury wisely agreed to condemn the defendant.

I do feel bad for Dylann Roof’s family, who are also victims, as they will lose their son/brother/nephew. They will still be able to see him as he sits on death row though, and they can take some time to come to terms with his demise. That’s more than these victims and their families got. Nevertheless, they said they love him but are bewildered by his cruelty “which caused so much pain to so many good people.”

The families of criminals are invisible to us, but sometimes they are good people who are horrified and ashamed by what has taken place. Some, like Roof’s family, will (eventually) lose their loved one, too. Because of their association, it’s hard to muster sympathy and there is sometimes a degree of anger directed at them, too. But they are suffering, too.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott commended the jury and wished “closure” for the surviving victims and the families. It’s a kind thought, but let’s be real. What could help these people move on? A murder conviction? A death sentence? After all, as Melvin Graham said today, “My sister is still gone.”

No, we will do what we can to bring justice, but it isn’t fair to ask these people to ever move past this moment.


Today, Dylann Roof was Forgiven

I read an article today in The New York Times about Dylann Roof’s bond hearing. The victims’ families were there because they had something to say to Roof. Here are some excerpts from the article:

“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders, the mother of 26-year old Tywanza Sanders, a poet who died after trying to save his aunt, who was also killed. “You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know,” she said in a quavering voice… “But may God have mercy on you.”

Yahoo News also ran a piece that quoted another relative, Anthony Thompson.

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. … Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

I commend The New York Times and Yahoo for focusing on the courage of Nadine Collier and Felicia Sanders and Anthony Thompson, instead of Dylann Roof, the coward who murdered nine people (mostly seniors) at a Bible study.

Roof hasn’t asked for forgiveness, and he doesn’t deserve it. And, no one would blame the victims if they were bitter and angry for the rest of their lives. Instead they rose to a height few of us could, and wisely forgave him. Perhaps they realized if they did not forgive him, his cruelty and senseless actions would drive their thoughts and actions for the rest of their lives. Or maybe they did what they believe is right.

Whatever their reasons were, who could help but admire their courage?