At today’s bond hearing for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, South Carolina Judge James B. Gosnell did something extraordinary: he allowed the families of the 9 victims to personally address the suspect in open court. (Roof was present via video conference.)

Watch this right now (h/t to commenter “jennifer”):

More from the New York Times:

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” Felicia Sanders told Dylann Roof, the suspect in a massacre that officials said was racially motivated. She was in the room when the gunman fatally shot nine people, including her son, Tywanza, and Ms. Sanders survived by pretending to be dead.

“You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know,” she said. “Every fiber in my body hurts, and I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero.”

But like some of the others, she added, “May God have mercy on you.”

The daughter of another victim, Ethel Lance, her voice choked with sobs, said: “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you,” the woman said. “And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but God forgive you, and I forgive you.”

This was a slightly controversial decision on the part of the judge; although within the scope of the law, it’s unusual to have victims address the accused so early in the process.

Listen to his justification:

I set the tone of my court. It’s my courtroom. I take control over it, and I conduct business within the scope of the law.

I’m a Charlestonian. Our community is hurt. Our community is hurt. People have to reach out and tell them, it’s good to grieve. It’s best to learn how to forgive. There is a judicial process that will be taking place. You saw what these people did today. These people, people in Charleston, our citizens, they hurt, but they will learn how to forgive. It’s difficult.

I’ve never seen anything like this; I also haven’t been practicing very long, but I’m used to seeing process and posture that’s left sterile. I think this will help, because from what I’ve seen in my limited experience in the criminal courts, more often than not the victims and their families are told to sit quietly and wait for a verdict which may or may not help bring closure.

In this case, however, the victims have been brought into the process and allowed to speak out on behalf of those they lost at the hands of Dylann Roof. Today, David French at National Review said, “This is one of the most powerful Christian witnesses I’ve ever seen.” I agree with him.

This is the beginning of healing. This is the sort of compassion that makes closure possible. These brave victims became leaders in their community today, because rather than shut down and give in to 2015’s conventions governing how we’re all “supposed” to react in the face of unspeakable evil, they stood up, declared their forgiveness, and offered this monster of a human being the greatest fruit the Spirit gave to us—Love.

What extraordinary people.


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