Dylann Roof was formally sentenced to death Wednesday for the church massacre in Charleston, S.C., after victims’ relatives described the pain he unleashed in a hail of gunfire at Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015.
“Since June 17th, I’ve gotten to know you,” said Felicia Sanders, who survived the shooting but lost her son, Tywanza. “Yes, I know you because you’re in my head. You’re in my head every day. You’ve made me develop a lot of ‘I can’ts.’ I can’t hear balloons pop. I can’t hear fireworks… And most importantly, I cannot shut my eyes to pray. Even when I try, I cannot because I have to keep my eyes open to see everyone around me.”
Sanders was one of 22 relatives to deliver victim impact statements this morning at Roof’s official sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Charleston. Roof stared forward, refusing to make eye contact with them.
Despite their pain, several speakers tried to break through Roof’s seemingly emotionless exterior. They urged him to abandon his white supremacist views and repent for his actions that claimed the lives of nine parishioners.
“I forgive you,” said Dan Simmons, Jr., whose father, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., was killed in the church massacre. “I know that you don’t understand that. But God requires me to forgive you. I forgive you. He also requires me to plead and pray for you. And I do that.”
Federal statue requires the judge to follow the unanimous verdict the jury reached late yesterday, calling for a death sentence. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said, "This hate, this viciousness, this moral depravity, will not go unanswered."
Although discharged from their duties, a majority of jurors voluntarily returned to the courtroom this morning to hear the families speak and watch the official outcome of their decision.
Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse late yesterday, Melvin Graham described the jury’s verdict as a “very hollow victory” because it could not bring back his sister Cynthia Hurd.
“But what it can do is just send a message to those who feel the way (Roof) feels that this community will not tolerate it,” Graham said.
Graham echoed the praise of many victims’ relatives for the support they’ve received from people around Charleston, the state of South Carolina and the nation. He said he hopes the love and solidarity will continue.
“Every time I hear about the shooting, I cry. We have to stop this,” Graham said. “And I think that if we could just stand up with each other like we did in the beginning, then maybe we’ve got a pretty good shot of stamping this out. But we’ve got to stand together.”
Graham said he strives to one day forgive his sister’s killer and hopes, one day, Dylann Roof will repent for his actions.
“He’s in God’s hands now,” Graham said. “If he turns his life around, if he makes a humble confession to God, when he gets there he can join my sister and the other eight in heaven.”
Fox News’ Chip Bell and Multimedia Reporter Terace Garnier in Charleston and The Associated Press contributed to this report.