On June 17, 2015, nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Church were shot dead by self-described white supremacist Dylann Roof, who has since been charged with 33 counts, including hate crimes. Roof faces the death penalty in a state court trial that is slated to begin mid-January.
Roof’s federal death penalty trial opened on Wednesday with harrowing, heartbreaking testimony from shooting survivor Felicia Sanders, who recalled watching Roof murder her son, Tywanza Sanders, in front of her. “I watched my son come in this world and I watched my son leave this world,” Sanders told the courtroom.
After Sanders’ son was shot, he allegedly mustered a brief exchange with Roof, before dying. Per the New York Times:
“Ms. Sanders testified that her wounded son managed to tell Mr. Roof that he did not need to continue shooting, that they meant him no harm. ‘I have to do this,’ she quoted the gunman as responding, ‘because y’all are raping our women and y’all are taking over our world.’ That, she said, was ‘when he put about five bullets in my son. I couldn’t move. I was just waiting on my turn.’”
Sanders’ aunt Susie Jackson also died in the shooting. “She was my best friend,” Sanders recounted tearfully, according to NBC’s coverage of the trial.
In his opening remarks, lead prosecutor Julius N. Richardson predicted that, “this is going to be a long and difficult trial.” The latter is a foregone conclusion. I can only hope for the sake of the victims and their loved ones that judgement will be swift.