Charleston church shooting suspect Dylann Roof was ordered to remain in custody on nine murder charges on Friday, at an emotional bond hearing during which relatives of the victims expressed their grief.
Roof’s attorney, public defender Ashley Pennington, said his 21-year-old client was prepared to “accept the no bond arrangement”. Judge James Gosnell set the next court hearing in the case for October 23.
Bond was set at $1m on a weapons charge, but Roof will nevertheless remain in custody because no bond was set on the murder charges.
Roof appeared in court via videolink and was seen standing quietly through the hearing, providing brief answers to the judge’s questions.
Investigators say he has told them he wanted the shootings to spark a race war in the US.
Relatives of the nine victims were invited to speak at Friday’s hearing. Several broke down in tears as they spoke of their loss, but also said they forgave Roof.
“Every fibre in my body hurts, and I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But he was my hero,” said Felicia Sanders.
In their first public reaction to the fatal shooting, the family of Roof released a statement offering sympathy to the victims.
“We cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night,” the statement said. “We are devastated and saddened by what occurred.”
Early on Friday, Roof was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm.
The charges came hours after he confessed to carrying out the attack.
US officials are investigating the attack, in which four ministers were killed including a Democratic state senator, as a hate crime.
The justice department announced on Friday that it’s investigating whether it could be a hate crime or domestic terrorism. Agency spokeswoman Emily Pierce said the slayings were “undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community”.
It comes in a year of turmoil in the United States, where police killings of several unarmed black men have provoked angry national debates about race relations, policing and the criminal justice system.
Al Jazeera’s Andy Gallacher, reporting from Charleston, said that while the South Carolina city and other communities across the US have come together to mourn those killed in the attack, race relations will continue to be an ongoing issue.
“This is a community and a city that is coming together with no regard of racial background, but nevertheless the issue of race is one that cannot be ignored,” Gallacher said.
Calling for death penatly
Meanwhile, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley told NBC’s “Today” show on Friday that she would prefer to see Roof tried on state charges and that she believed state prosecutors should pursue a death sentence.
“We will absolutely want him to have the death penalty,” she told NBC.
Roof had complained that “blacks were taking over the world,” an acquaintance of the 21-year-old said.
Joey Meek, a former friend who reconnected with Roof a few weeks ago, said that while they got drunk on vodka, Roof declared that “someone needed to do something about it for the white race”.
President Barack Obama has called the tragedy yet another example of damage caused by guns in America.
Addressing a gathering of US mayors in San Francisco, President Obama said that racism remains a “blight” that the United States has to “combat together”.
The US president also reiterated his support for gun control legislation, saying tragedies like the one in South Carolina call for a response beyond grief.
FIELD NOTES FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
The couple who embraced outside the Emanuel AME church in Charleston did not know each other, they simply felt a deep loss and needed to reach out to someone close by.
It was not an unusual sight for a city that is going through such emotional turmoil except for one thing. One mourner was white, the other African American. That has been the spirit here ever since the horrific events of Wednesday night when nine black church goers were gunned down in what is being investigated as a hate crime.
This is a community and a city that is coming together with no regard of racial background but nevertheless the issue of race is one that cannot be ignored. Confederate flags, long considered a symbol of racial oppression, fly proudly throughout America’s deep south and for many that represents much deeper problems.
As for its own history, the ‘Emanuel Mother’ church, as it is affectionately known here, stands as a symbol of black freedom. Established by slaves fighting for their liberty it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1886 only to rise from the rubble and continue to serve at the heart of this community.
Long after the camera crews have left it will carry on in that role, now perhaps more than ever, but it will also be remembered for something sinister and inherently evil.