One of the pastors counseling South Carolina gunman Dylann Storm Roof's family believes the white 21-year-old's confessed race-based massacre of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston indicates that the United States needs to "address the deep serious issue of racism in our society."
"We've got to work to build bridges among our congregations," the Rev. Herman R. Yoos of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Columbia told NBC News.
"We need (to) confront the reality of racism and work together to build honest communications, honest dialogue, prayerful conversations that help this be a turning point for our state," added Yoos, who's also bishop of the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Yoos has been ministering to Roof's family, who attended church over the weekend. Various news organizations have identified Roof's family members as father Franklin Bennett Roof, a grandfather, an estranged step-mother and at least two siblings. Yoos did not state which specific family members he has been counseling.
"They are shattered but their faith is strong," Yoos told congregants during service this past Sunday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, according to The New York Times.
Roof's family had attended an earlier service. Yoos told NBC that during the service there was "great sadness." He shared that the Roofs "are grieving for those nine families." They expressed grief "over something they do not understand and cannot comprehend either," he said.
Bishop Yoos' sermon theme on Sunday was "where one member of the body suffers, we all suffer and that we're in solidarity with the nine families who lost loved ones." He also "read the names of the dead and asked for prayers for their families," according to the Times.
Roof's family said in a public statement after the shooting that their "thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed" and that their "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."
The Rev. Tony Metze, pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, confirmed to The Huffington Post two days after the June 17 massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that Roof "was on the roll of our congregation."
Metze, who said he had been providing "Christian care" to Roof's family, declined to comment on the gunman's church attendance and whether he had recently visited St. Paul's.
There was no mention of religion in Roof's alleged 2,400-word screed explaining why he had "no choice" but to take action after finding "pages upon pages of these brutal black on white murders" on the Council of Conservative Citizens' website.
The Council of Conservative Citizens, which calls for the U.S. to adhere to "Christian beliefs and values," explains in its "Statement of Principles" that it "oppose(s) all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called 'affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races."
Roof expressed similar white supremacist beliefs in his apparent online manifesto, in which he refers to blacks as "the group that is the biggest problem for Americans" and argues throughout that whites "are in fact superior." He also comments on Jews ("In my opinion the issues with jews [sic] is not their blood, but their identity"), Hispanics ("There is good White [sic] blood worht [sic] saving in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and even Brasil. But they are still our enemies.") and East Asians ("They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White [sic] race.").
That mindset is what took Roof, who has an affinity for the contested Confederate battle flag, to Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he is said to have killed: Democratic state senator and Emanuel AME pastor the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a teacher; Cynthia Hurd, 54, a librarian; Tywanza Sanders, 26, a recent graduate of Allen University; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, 74; the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; and Susie Jackson, 87.
"I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me," Roof wrote.
When Roof opened fire on the 13 men and women who had welcomed him an hour earlier for Bible study and prayer, he reportedly told one victim who begged him to stop: "'No, you've raped our women, and you are taking over the country ... I have to do what I have to do.'"
Witnesses told law enforcement officials that Roof had also declared that he was at the church "to shoot black people."
Emanuel AME Church, founded in the early 19th century, has survived white-enforced segregation, being set on fire in retaliation for a planned slave revolt, a ban on all-black churches, an earthquake, and now, the murder of nine of its members.
Surviving family members moved observers last Friday when they confronted the gunman at his bond hearing, which he attended via a videolink.
"I forgive you, my family forgives you. But take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one that matters the most — Christ — so that He can change you and change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you'll be OK. Do that and you'll be better off than you are right now," Anthony Thompson, a relative of Myra Thompson, told a stone-faced Roof during the brief hearing, CP reported.
Bishop Yoos, Roof's family pastor, also spoke to NBC about the astounding offers of forgiveness extended to Roof by surviving family members of the nine men and women he confessed to killing.
"Our human nature is to want to get even but they extended to him, and to the community, and modeled a forgiveness that I think we're all called to practice," Yoos said.
He added that he believes such forgiveness can only come from "the life, death and resurrection of Jesus."
Bishop Yoos stated earlier in a public letter just a day after the shooting that after taking time for "self-reflection, mourning and prayer ... we must recommit ourselves to intentional listening, open dialogue and renewed efforts as we all work together to eliminate racial injustice."
"Together, we must work to recognize and affirm the image of God in all people," he added.
Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. His bond for the weapon charge was set at $1 million. Roof is expected to face further charges, as federal authorities stated early on that they were investigating the Emanuel AME Church massacre as a hate crime.