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Almost every white person I spoke with in Charleston during the trial praised the church's resounding forgiveness of the young white man who shot their members down. No one made mention that this forgiveness was individual, not collective.Some of the victims and their families forgave him, and some of them did not.
Whenever he stood to be walked back to his holding cell, his mouth moved with what I first thought was a sigh or a deep exhale—really, it was an ever present twitch, a gumming of his cheeks that sometimes ended with his tongue lolling out and licking his thin lips.
In a living room full of paintings of Florida and parrots, all that Dylann Roof's father could say, over and over again, was: “I don't know what happened, I just know that the boy wasn't raised that way.”Even when I pushed him, he said it again, and then he shook his head and kept saying it until he asked me to leave, with the sad look of a man who wanted any other life than this one.
After Dylann did what he did, there was no going back to Key West, or to some easy before.
He was dressed in the sort of getup that a man wears when life hasn't presented him with many opportunities to wear a suit: a worn crewneck sweater and thick polyester khakis that hung low over cheap-looking brown leather dress shoes.
During two stages of his trial, Dylann Roof decided to represent himself.
It is as if he floated through people's lives leaving nothing for them to recall.
One teacher who spent time with him in her classroom every day says that she typically has a good memory, but she apologizes because she really can't remember anything about him.
There was just this, just intrusions from strangers who wanted an answer and felt the nature of his son's crime warranted one—and just Benn Roof letting his two giant Rottweilers out the front door to track me and to make sure I'd gone back into the dark street and the black night I'd come from. (Contacted later, Benn Roof declined to participate in this story further, describing it as “fake news.”) In Dylann's farewell note to his father, found torn out of a journal in the backseat of his car, there is no nostalgia.
It is devoid of a loving tone, except to say to his father that he was a good dad.
She trembled and shook until her knees buckled and she slid slowly onto the bench, mouth agape, barely moving. I'm so sorry.” She seemed to be speaking to her boyfriend, but maybe it was meant for Felicia Sanders, who was soon to take the stand. But from gavel to gavel, as I listened to the testimony of the survivors and family members, often the only thing I could focus on, and what would keep me up most nights while I was there, was the magnitude of Dylann Roof's silence, his refusal to even look up, to ever explain why he did what he had done.
A communiqué that was a part of the bond that mothers have, one that was brought up by the radiant shame one must feel when your son has wreaked unforgivable havoc on another mother's child. When Dylann Roof's mother fainted in the courtroom, a reporter from ABC and I called for a medic, and not knowing what else to do, I used my tissues to put a cold compress on her forehead and started dabbing it—before I felt out of place, or realized that I was too much in place, inside of a history of caretaking and comforting for fainting white women when the real victims were seated across the aisle, still crying. Over and over again, without even bothering to open his mouth, Roof reminded us that he did not have to answer to anyone.
Someone has tied an American flag to the tree out front. And then I took a seat on the couch where his son used to sleep, feet away from the computer where his son wrote his explanation of why he had to kill nine black people, feet away from the file cabinet where Dylann Roof sometimes stored his jacket with its flag patches from African apartheid states. He watched me closely while I petted the affectionate mackerel tabby cat that his son had taken so many pictures of but still left behind.