Every day, there are about 36 people killed by guns in the United States. Whether it be an accident, a domestic dispute that escalated out of control, or a hate crime, there is so much senseless violence being committed. On June 17, 2015, then 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof opened fire in the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people and injuring three others.
For the parishioners, it was a night like any other, but for Roof, this would be the night that made him famous. Roof had visited the church on three separate occasions and unbeknownst to the attendants, Roof was scouting out his targets. As the the Bible study went on that night, Roof sat with the group for 40-minutes before opening fire during a benediction, beginning with the Reverend. He would eventually pull the trigger of his .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun more than 75 times and empty seven magazines, shooting all of the victims multiple times. The self-declared white supremacist ignored all pleads for mercy and once he finished, drove into the night to try to outrun the police.
Roof’s intent with the massacre was to begin a race war. He had intentionally waited until after his 21st birthday so that he could purchase his own gun and execute his plan. He had built up so much hatred towards African Americans and self-radicalized through the Internet, and he admitted to the FBI later that this was something he “had to do” because “black people are killing white people every day.” He told one of the three survivors that he was only sparing her so that she could “tell the story.” Roof later said that he had save ammunition to kill himself because he expected officers to be surrounding the church, but he always wanted his story to live on.
A day after the massacre, Roof was captured and there were 33 federal counts placed against Roof, with 18 of those carrying the death penalty. Even the leaders of. The white supremacist’s movement were shocked when they learned about Roof’s massacre. Not once during the entire ordeal did Roof show any remorse, but instead he wrote all of his feelings down in a jailhouse manifesto. This manifesto was a continuation of his website, “The Last Rhodesian,” which Roof added to quite often. His posts included pictures of himself with a gun and Confederate flag, pictures of him spitting on and burning an American flag, pictures of him at historic slavery-related sites, and most concerning, his 2,444-word unsigned manifesto in which Roof stated all of his opinions. All of this evidence became very apparent during Roof’s trial that began in December 2016.
During the trial, Roof sidelined his court-appointed lawyers and did a majority of the talking. Roof denied any psychological incapacity, called no witnesses and questioned no witnesses, and presented no evidence in his defense throughout the trial. Instead, Roof told the jury that he felt and still feels that he had no choice but to kill those nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and confessed to the killings. Roof also asked for the jurors to spare him. The prosecution played Roof’s two-hour confession and read several of Roof’s chilling online essays, entries from a journal found in Roof’s car, letters to his parents, and his jailhouse manifesto. Throughout the entire trial, as the prosecution put it in their closing statement, Roof “showed not one ounce of remorse.”
It only took the jury three short hours to come back with the decision to recommend the death penalty on Tuesday, January 10. The jury did not feel that the other option, life in prison without the possibility of parole, was harsh enough. When the 10 women and two men walked into the courtroom to make their recommendation, not one person looked at Roof, but instead looked to the victims’ families. With this ruling, Roof will become the first federal hate crime defendant to be sentenced to death. Roof is also set to be tried on state murder charges, and prosecutors have said they will be seeking the death penalty in that case as well.
Despite getting this concrete decision, the death penalty sentence will drag this case out for many more years. Roof’s family said after the trial that they still love him, even if they will never understand his motives. With this in mind, Roof’s case will likely go through a series of appeals. His case will also most likely continue because of thee scarcity of lethal injection drugs that could hinder his execution.
Judge Richard Gergel formally sentenced Roof on Wednesday, January 11. Gergel felt that the jury did a magnificent job and showered praise upon their decision. Prosecutors also believed that this decision was a result of hard work and was a “fair and just process.” The overall feeling of the court was ecstatic over the decision of the jury and the families of the victims felt that justice had been served at last.
Though Roof had the desire to split the community apart with his shocking act of racist hatred, the community stood together in solidarity. Though this sentence cannot bring back the loved ones lost, many family members have turned to their faith and forgiven Roof for his actions. The cycle of violence must cease one day, and this is a good starting point for the future.