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US to pay $88M to families, victims of 2015 South Carolina church massacre

The $88 million deal includes $63 million for the families of the slain and $25 million for survivors of the shooting.
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 11:40 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 28, 2021 at 6:45 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WCSC/AP) - Families of nine victims killed in a racist attack at a Black South Carolina church have reached a settlement with the Justice Department over a faulty background check that allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used in the 2015 massacre.

The family of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the state senator who served as the church’s lead pastor, spoke about his death and the deaths of the eight other parishioners.

“No amount of compensation will ever replace my father’s life,” Eliana Pickney said. “But through the help and the opportunities that the government and the people standing behind me have provided, it allows me and my sister to have the opportunity to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that my father’s legacy doesn’t go away.”

“The settlement will not bring anybody back,” the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the widower of the late Myra Thompson, said. “The settlement will not bring satisfaction to my life or the life of my children more than the fact that this act, this tragic act, God made it something good. And that’s what’s bringing joy to my life and into the life of my children, and our community and our state.”

The $88 million settlement represents one of the largest Civil Rights settlements in the nation’s history, attorneys said. Of that $88 million, $25 million will go to the survivors of the shooting while the remaining $63 million will be split among the families of the nine victims who died in the shooting.

Attorney Bakari Sellers said the “88″ figure was purposeful. It’s a number typically associated with white supremacy and the number of bullets Roof said he had taken with him to the attack.

“We’ve given a big ‘F you’ to white supremacy and racism,” Sellers told the AP. “We’re doing that by building generational wealth in these Black communities, from one of the most horrific race crimes in the country.”

Weeks before the church shooting, Roof was arrested by Columbia Police on the drug possession charge. But a series of clerical errors and missteps allowed Roof to buy the handgun he later used in the killings.

The Emanuel 9: The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton, the Rev....
The Emanuel 9: The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Myra Thompson, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, and Tywanza Sanders.(Provided)

Sellers, one of the attorneys representing Emanuel 9 family members, referred to the Wednesday night Bible study after which the shooting occurred.

“This Bible study caused so much pain, but it also led us to come together. And that Bible study caused us so much pain and so much hurt, but it showed us also that things like justice can be a verb,” he said.

“The atrocities that took place at the Mother Emanual AME Church in June 2015 will forever impact victims and their families, South Carolinians, and law enforcement and first responders,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic in a statement released on Thursday. “The FBI Columbia field office worked tirelessly with our state and local partners, and resources in the community to pursue justice for those victims. Today, we still share in their grief, and hope the settlements reached bring some relief to those directly affected.”

In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the Bible study at the church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 at the time.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.