CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The family of the man accused of killing nine people at a Charleston church has issued their first statement on the slayings.
The statement read:
“The Roof Family would like to extend their deepest sympathies and condolences to families of the victims in Wednesday night’s shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. We offer our prayers, sympathy for all of those impacted by these events.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed this week. We have all been touched by the moving words from the victims’ families offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.”
“Our hope and prayer is for peace and healing for the families of the victims, the Charleston community, and those touched by these events throughout the state of South Carolina and our nation.”
Roof appeared before a judge via video conference Friday and showed little reaction or emotion when addressed by the victims’ loved ones. He is accused of nine counts of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, police in South Carolina said.
The suspected gunman confessed to investigators that he opened fire Wednesday evening inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, CNN reports. He allegedly told them he had wanted to start a race war.
A survivor who was inside the church when shots rang out said Roof answered one man’s pleas to stop by saying, “No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.”
A friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan “to do something crazy” in order “to start a race war.” And the Berkeley County, South Carolina, government tweeted a picture of him in a jacket with flags from apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that was ruled by a white minority until it became independent in 1980.
After the massacre inside the church, the gunman hopped in a car and headed north, investigators said. He was spotted by a woman heading to work who called police then trailed him for more than 30 miles, keeping authorities updated along the way.
Police in Shelby, N.C., — about 245 miles from Charleston — pulled over Roof and took him into custody.
The federal Department of Justice is probing the attack as a hate crime.
CNN contributed to this report.