CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Dylann Storm Roof appeared in court for the first time Friday afternoon and was charged with murder shortly after confessing to the shooting massacre that left nine people dead at an historic black church here.
At the bond hearing in North Charleston, South Carolina, Roof was formally charged with nine counts of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. He appeared calm and registered no emotion while his image was fed into the courtroom through a live video.
Roof spoke just briefly, saying “Yes, sir,” when asked to verify his address; “21,” when asked his age; and “No, sir” when asked if he was employed.
Some of the victims’ tearful family members read emotional statements during the hearing, most saying they were praying for Roof’s soul and that they would seek to forgive him even though they were angry.
“We welcomed you at our Bible study Wednesday with open arms,” said Alicia Sanders, whose son Tywanza Sanders was killed during the rampage. “Every fiber in my body hurts … May God have mercy on you.”
“You hurt me and hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, through tears. “I forgive you.”
Roof’s bond was set at $1 million for the gun charge. The judge said he did not have the authority to set bond on the murder charges. Roof is scheduled to appear in court next on Oct. 23 at 2 p.m.
Following Friday’s hearing, Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson told reporters that the statements from family members inside the courtroom displayed “the spirit of Charleston.”
“My mission is to bring justice to this community and especially for the victims in this case,” Wilson said. She did not take any questions.
Among the dead in Wednesday evening’s horrific shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was beloved pastor Clementa Pinckney, a longtime state senator. Roof attended the church’s regular weekly Bible study and sat with Pinckney and churchgoers for about an hour before opening fire with a .45 cal handgun, according to court documents. Prior to leaving the bible study room, the documents state, Roof stood over an unnamed witness and uttered a racially inflammatory statement. Each victim was shot multiple times.
Roof, 21, told police during his confession that he “almost didn’t go through with [the shooting] because everyone was so nice to him,” sources told NBC News’ Craig Melvin. But he ultimately decided to “go through with his mission.”
His family released a statement on Friday which read in part: “Words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. We offer our prayers sympathy for all of those impacted by these events.” They went on to offer their “thoughts and prayers’ for the families of the victims, to call for healing and to ask for respect for their family’s privacy at this time.
Roof was taken into custody Thursday in Shelby, North Carolina, nearly 250 miles from the scene of the deadly shooting. He confessed shortly after being captured.
Roof waived his right to an attorney and was transported to South Carolina Thursday evening. He was held overnight at Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston, where he is in isolated protective custody. According to the Charleston County sheriff’s office public information officer, who spoke with NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez, Roof’s cell is right next to the officer charged in the shooting death of Walter Scott.
His arrest was “pretty uneventful,” Shelby, North Carolina Police Chief Jeff Ledford told NBC News.
“Do I think it would have been a shootout? I would have thought the probability would have been high,” Ledford added. “Based on what he did, you know, guns and everything else, I would have expected to have been something a little worse. The fact that he gave up that easy was interesting. In the mind of somebody like that there’s no telling.”
Meanwhile, the city of Charleston – nicknamed “The Holy City” – continues to grieve. A prayer vigil will be held Friday evening at the College of Charleston TD Arena to honor the nine lives lost and “to allow the families to be there within the bosom of this community,” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley said in a press conference. Riley also announced the creation of a memorial fund, called the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.
And at the AME church, a regular stream of people coming to pray and leave mementos for the victims has not slowed, despite the warm weather, often making it difficult to tell who was wiping away sweat and who was wiping away tears.
“My heart is just bleeding,” Avis Williams, 51, told msnbc. She belongs to a sister AME church of Emanuel and said she has been wracked with grief since hearing the news. Recently, Williams said she sang at Emanuel AME with her choir and had the chance to hear slain Pastor Pinckney preach.
“He was a great pastor,” she recalled. “There’s something about his voice that hits you down in the depths of your soul.”
Wednesday’s horrific massacre follows mass shootings in Virginia, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and Connecticut, and has once again ignited a political conversation about gun control. According to NBC Connecticut reporter Max Reiss, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, who signed into law broad gun restrictions after the 2012 shooting tragedy in Newtown, called South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday to talk about how to move forward and respond to an event like this. Sources told Reiss the two spoke “for a while” and that Haley was grateful for the call.
A day after President Obama expressed heartache and anger over the massacre, noting that his time in office has been marked by too many tragedies caused by firearms, first lady Michelle Obama expressed a similar sentiment Friday while visiting Italy.
“As my husband said yesterday, simply saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and the community of Charleston simply doesn’t convey the heartache that we all feel we’ve seen too many tragedies like this,” the first lady said. “And there is something particularly horrifying about something that happened so senseless in a house of worship. So my heart goes out to the people of Emanuel, and to the people of Charleston I pray for a community that I know is in pain and with the hope that tragedies like these will one day come to an end.”
Republican 2016 hopefuls, however, still seem reluctant to change their scripts on gun control.
“Laws can’t change this,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s expected to formally announce a White House bid next month, told attendees at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C. Friday. “Only the goodwill and the love of the American people can let those folks know that that act was unacceptable.”
At the same time, the shooting has also reignited a conversation about race. Speaking in an interview on NBC’s “Today” Friday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called the massacre “an absolute hate crime” and said she wanted Roof to have the death penalty.
“This is the worst hate that I’ve seen and that the country has seen in a long time,” Haley said. She did not speak about the Confederate flag that still flies at the South Carolina State House, but her press secretary said in a statement to msnbc that “the governor does not have legal authority to alter the flag. Only the General Assembly can do that.”
Amanda Sakuma contributed reporting.