After Dylann Roof verdict, best stories aren't about the killer — but resilient survivors

As I noted earlier this week, a big part of me would be happy never to see Dylann Roof's name in print again. Or hear it on the TV news.

But stories about the victims and survivors of last year's rampage that claimed nine lives at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C? I could read those all day — as long as I had a box of tissues handy.

That's why — after a federal jury found Roof guilty on all 33 counts Thursday — my favorite verdict stories were the ones that focused not on Roof but the victims.

A year and a half after the church slaughter, Emanuel AME's demonstrations of faith and forgiveness still resonate in a powerful way. More on that in a moment.

As background: Major news organizations — from The Associated Press to Reuters to the Washington Post — all covered the jury's conviction of Roof. No surprise there.

However, victims were secondary in most of these straight-news reports. I didn't see any survivors or victims' loved ones quoted in the Los Angeles Times' story (although readers did learn up high that Roof wore a "blue cable-knit sweater" as the verdicts were read). Perhaps I missed a sidebar.

But besides its main report, the New York Times had a gripping narrative on "Congregants’ Quiet Agony at the Dylann Roof Trial."

Wow, this is worthwhile reading, full of precise detail and real human emotion:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Each morning they flowed into Courtroom Six, escorted by federal officials from a holding room reserved for survivors and families of the victims. The accused, Dylann S. Roof, never turned from the end of the defense table to acknowledge the parents, widows and widowers, children, grandchildren and fellow congregants of the nine African-Americans he confessed to killing in June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Felicia Sanders, who survived the rampage but lost her son and her aunt, watched from the first of six rows of wooden benches, along with her husband, Tyrone. The Rev. Eric S. C. Manning, who now inhabits the office once occupied by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was among those killed, sat one row back. The Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, whose wife, Myra, led the evening Bible study that Mr. Roof joined, always took his place in the fifth row, along with John Pinckney, the former pastor’s father.

In the piece, the New York Times revisits the forgiveness that victims' loved ones offered soon after the mass shooting:

Mr. Thompson, 64, was one of the five family members who, in a spontaneous demonstration of grace, expressed forgiveness for Mr. Roof at his bond hearing less than 48 hours after the shootings. That has not changed, he said, despite watching Mr. Roof’s nonchalant and largely remorseless admission to plotting the assault to foment racial strife.
“I have no intentions of taking that back,” the gray-headed clergyman said, stressing that his forgiveness had been more for himself than for Mr. Roof. “He is not a part of my life anymore. Forgiveness has freed me of that, of him completely. I’m not going to make him a lifetime partner.”

And the story delves into religion in quoting Emanuel AME's new pastor:

Mr. Manning, 49, said he felt it important to be at the courthouse to demonstrate “a ministry of presence.”
“You might not be able to say everything, but just that you can smile and they can smile back and you can hug, they know you’re there,” he said. The pastor has been preaching from the Book of Psalms during the trial, reminding his congregation on Sunday that “in the midst of all of this, God’s joy is the one constant.”
Mr. Manning said he had been moved by the stoicism of those around him, and of the two survivors who testified. “What has been displayed,” he said, “is just the determination to show once again the resilience and how strong our faith and trust is in God.”
The video taken before the murders of his church’s stalwarts affected him deeply. “They were just there doing what they have done on so many other Wednesdays, just there to study God’s word,” he said. “And in the midst of that, evil presented itself.”

For other excellent treatment of the victims, check out coverage by — guess who?The Post and Courier's Jennifer Berry Hawes:

Hawes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for Charleston's daily newspaper, has owned this story from the beginning.

On her victims' story, Hawes' extremely compelling lede:

Last weekend, Jennifer Pinckney sat down her two young daughters individually, including the now-7-year-old who hid beneath a desk with her as a gunman executed their father on the other side of a thin wall.
The school librarian explained to each what had gone on the previous week. The man who reportedly killed her husband and their daddy, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was on trial. They didn't know yet what would happen.
But soon they would.
Late Thursday, Pinckney drove home after a jury found Dylann Roof guilty of all 33 charges against him, including hate crimes and religious obstruction. She prepared to speak with her girls again. This time, she could tell them that a jury had found the man who killed their father guilty. At the least, he would spend his life in prison.
"The first step is over," Pinckney said. "It gave us at least a little bit of closure before the holidays and before we get going again in January."
She hopes the penalty phase of Roof's trial, set to start Jan. 3, goes as quickly as the first. 

Hey journalists: Forget Roof. Give me the victims every time. That's where the better stories are.

Image via CNN video screenshot

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