Charleston Shooting Victims' Families Offer Accused Gunman Forgiveness Rather Than Hate

by Alex Ungerman 2:42 PM PDT, June 19, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

How they found the strength is beyond words.

Accused Charleston gunman Dylann Roof -- who is charged with opening fire and killing nine members of a bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina -- appeared in court for the first time on Tuesday, where, in an unorthodox move, Chief Magistrate James Gosnell named the victims one by one, offering the grieving families the chance to make a statement if they wished to.

Surprisingly, the overwhelming tone of those who spoke out -- in the face of the horror they have been subjected to -- was not of hate or anger at all, but of forgiveness for the accused 21-year-old assailant.

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The daughter of the late Ethel Lance, 70, spoke first.

"I will never talk to her ever again," she said. "I will never be able to hold her ever again. But I forgive you."

"I forgive you," said Anthony Thompson, who lost his 59-year-old wife Myra in the shooting. "My family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess to the one that matters the most so that he can change it, change your ways no matter what happened to you."

Felicia Sanders, whose 26-year-old son Tywanza Sanders died while she shielded her 5-year-old granddaughter, fought back tears as she spoke.

"You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know," she said. "And it will never be the same. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you."

"Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, everyone's plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live on," said Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons Sr., 74.

"Hate won't win," she added.

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Even when acknowledging their anger, the victims' families continued the powerful messages of forgiveness.

"I am a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry," said a relative of Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49. "We are the family that love built. We have no room for hate so we have to forgive."

What an incredible and brave way to respond to this horrific tragedy.

Following the events in Charleston, Beyonce posted an Instagram video in remembrance of the nine victims, writing, "My heart is with the families, loved ones, and all of those affected by the senseless tragedy in Charleston. May they rest in peace."

To donate to support the families of those who died in the Charleston shooting, text "prayforcharleston" to 843-606-5995 or donate online at the Palmetto Project.

If you haven't already watched Jon Stewart's commentary on the Charleston shooting that left him with not a single joke to tell, it is incredibly moving and heartbreaking.