Pastors, victim’s advocate discuss forgiveness of alleged S.C. church shooter

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) – Many of the families of the victims in the Charleston, S.C., church shooting forgave suspect Dylann Roof during a Friday court appearance.

But here in the midstate, there are mixed feelings as to whether he suspect deserves it.

That forgiveness the families came to so quickly is reminiscent of the Nickel Mines shooting nine years ago.

In that instance, too, central Pennsylvania we saw a community relying on its faith to move forward.

“We wanted to give people the opportunity to express how they felt,” said Rev. Edward Bailey, the church’s pastor.

Bailey feels like the families in South Carolina: He’s moved on to forgiveness.

“Our faith says not that we’re just sitting still and letting things happen to us,” he said, “but somehow God is going make things just.”

That was a common thread in the church full of pastors from different denominations.

“Certainly we’re going to hurt, they’re going to cry, they’re going to miss their loved one,” said Pastor Roland Forbes, Jr., who leads the Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation, “but they just hold God’s word as the highest thing. ”

The Amish community in Lancaster County similarly turned toward their faith in 2006, and forgave the man who shot and killed five little girls in a Nickel Mines schoolhouse.

But the state’s victim’s advocate says everyone’s process is different.

“Some people who have been harmed in this horrific way feel very justified – as they are – in their anger and their grief,” said Jennifer Storm. “So forgiveness isn’t an option.”

“I don’t know if I forgive him,” Stephen Welters, who went to the prayer service, said. “I know that I’ve begun to pray for him and his family.”

A strong faith doesn’t lead everyone to the same end, Storm cautioned.

“And it’s some place, I hope I can get to that place,” said Bob Hannum, a retired pastor. “I mean, they’re amazing. They’re amazing.”

For Reverend Bailey, forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting.

“You can be angry about what he did,” he said, “but how can you hold something against somebody? His life is over. I feel sorry for him.”

Bailey said he doesn’t blame the alleged shooter as much as he blames the people who made him that way.

He says prejudice is learned, and there needs to be a societal shift.

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