At the federal hate crimes trial of Dylann Roof, a woman who survived the massacre of nine people at the Emanuel A.M.E. church in 2015, described in detail the moments leading up to, during and after the shooting. Her testimony was so vivid that judge was moved to end court proceedings for the day.
Polly Shepard, a 72-year-old retired nurse, took the witness stand and described how the church’s pastor Clementa Pickney welcomed Roof into a weekly evening bible study, handed him a bible and a scripture the group would be reading. Not even an hour later, as they bowed their heads in prayer, chaos ensued. “The defendant started shooting,” she said, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. Shepard is one of three people who survived.
She hid under a table as Roof took aim at the 12 people who were present, as glass shattered around the room. When he came to her, he pointed his weapon. “I was praying out loud,” she said. “He told me to shut up.”
He asked her if she had been hit by a bullet, she said that she hadn’t been shot. “‘I’m not going to,'” Roof told her. “‘I’m going to leave you here to tell the story.”
Prosecutors played the frantic 911 call she placed after the shooting. “There’s so many dead, I think. He shot all the members of the church,” she told the dispatcher, believing that Roof was still in the building. “Send someone down here please. “He’s coming. He’s coming,” Sheppard said. “Please!”
She eventually came from under the table to find Pickney, then Tywanza Sanders, both fatally wounded.
Shepard was helped from the witness stand by loved ones, the Post said. The defense rested for the day without calling any witnesses. Roof himself said he would not testify in his own defense, prompting the judge to send jurors home.
Earlier testimony included that of Dr. Erin Presnell, the medical examiner who said she did autopsies on all nine victims over four days.
Every victim was shot at least five times, Presnell said. Many of them had several wounds to their arms. Several times, Presnell stepped down from the stand to show how someone with their arms pulled up tight against them could end up having a bullet enter and exit their bodies several times.
Other victims had shots closely clustered together. Earlier testimony from Roof’s confession to the FBI and survivor Felicia Sanders said many of the victims hid under tables when the shooting started.
Prosecutors asked Presnell what killed each victim. Her answer for almost every one: “multiple gunshot wounds to vital organs.”
Evidence presented during proceedings on Monday showed that Roof had plotted the killings based on a racist ideology he had espoused and described in a manifesto that he had written.
Closing arguments are expected to begin Thursday morning. If Roof is found guilty, the penalty phase of the trial begins Jan. 3.
Roof is also facing state murder charges, which could also mean the death penalty for him. That trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 17.