The US Department of Justice has reached an $88 million settlement of lawsuits filed by the families of nine slain churchgoers who were shot by self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina, six years ago.
The victims — Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, and Rev. Daniel Simmons — were attending an evening service at the historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when Roof gunned down the congregants.
Their families, 14 plaintiffs, filed a series of lawsuits against the FBI for negligence arguing the incident may have been prevented if the agency’s background check picked up on Roof’s felony charge.
It never did. Instead, after submitting his information and waiting three days — the time period in which the FBI could have blocked the purchase of a firearm while the check was completed — Roof purchased a Glock 41. Two months later he targeted the Black church.
According to the DOJ, families of those killed will receive settlements ranging from $6 million to $7.5 million, and survivors will receive settlements of $5 million.
“The mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church was a horrific hate crime that caused immeasurable suffering for the families of the victims and the survivors,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
“Since the day of the shooting, the Justice Department has sought to bring justice to the community, first by a successful hate crime prosecution and today by settling civil claims.”
Rev. Pickney’s daughter says the DOJ’s decision helps move the needle forward in the country acknowledging racism.
“For the first time, I think, in so long … as a young African American woman to see the government acknowledge the fact that racism still exists and how prevalent it is in our community and then actively try to combat it in every way that they can and to acknowledge that gun violence is an issue and to do everything they can to correct a mistake … is so important,” she said.
In 2017 Roof pleaded guilty to nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and a weapons charge for the massacre he spent months planning. He became the first person in US history to be sentenced to death for committing a federal hate crime.
In August 2021 he unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentence. In their ruling, a panel of three judges said Roof slaughtered nine Black people who welcomed him to worship.
“He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people would hear of the mass murder.”