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Families in Charleston church massacre reach $88M settlement with DOJ

A view of the Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
A view of the Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.

Updated October 28, 2021 at 1:47 PM ET

The families of nine people who died in a racist mass shootingat the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., have reached an $88 million settlement with the Department of Justice, after accusing federal agencies of failing to prevent convicted shooter Dylann Roof from buying a gun.

The settlement also includes money for people who survived the shooting.

Survivors and families who lost loved ones in the June 2015 attack filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, saying the FBI's negligence allowed Roof to buy the gun he used in the attack. At the time, federal law barred Roof from possessing a firearm. The families filed their lawsuit in 2016.

For those killed in the shooting, the settlements range from $6 million to $7.5 million per claim. For the survivors, the settlement brings $5 million per claim, the Justice Department says.

Survivors of the attack are glad to resolve the lawsuit, according to local attorney Andy Savage, who represents some members of the group. In a statement sent to NPR on behalf of the survivors, Savage said:

"The funds made available to these families will help accommodate their material needs, but the depth of their loss of cherished loved ones, and the continued mental anguish caused by their vivid memories of helplessly watching the racist slaughter of family and friends, cannot be assuaged by money alone. 

"It is their hope that their experience will help to focus those in leadership positions on the plight of the daily trauma suffered by an untold number of victims of gun violence. To do nothing is to continue to accept racial violence and wanton massacres as an integral part of the American experience. 

"Today, these families express heartfelt gratitude to so many individuals whose spiritual guidance, prayers, and acts of kindness have helped them through this tragedy. They now add our government to that list."

In his own statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the mass shooting "was a horrific hate crime that caused immeasurable suffering for the families of the victims and the survivors."

"Since the day of the shooting, the Justice Department has sought to bring justice to the community, first by a successful hate crime prosecution and today by settling civil claims," Garland said.

Congregants were gathered at Emanuel for a Wednesday night Bible study session at the time of Roof's attack.

Those who died in the shooting were:

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54; Susie J. Jackson, 87; DePayne Vontrease Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, 26; the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., 74; the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; and Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, 59.

Only a handful of people at the church survived the gunfire, including Felicia Sanders, her young granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.