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.