Polly Sheppard didn’t plan on attending the Wednesday night Bible study.
But June 17, 2015, was special. That night, her friend Myra Thompson was leading the study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and convinced her to go.
A stranger joined the group that night. And as members closed their eyes in prayer, the man pulled out a gun and unleashed 70 bullets inside the historically black church. Nine people, including Thompson, were killed.
Sheppard thought she might die, too. But the gunman said he had other plans for her: sparing her life so she could share with others what happened that night.
On Wednesday, Sheppard will do to exactly that in court.
The retired nurse will be among the final witnesses called to testify in the murder trial of Dylann Roof, the self-declared white supremacist who has confessed to the killings.
In an interview with CNN’s Brooke Baldwin earlier this year, Sheppard said she often wonders why she was spared.
“I wonder, but I’m sure (God) left me here to — there’s something for me to do, and I’m sure he’ll let me know what it is,” Sheppard said. “But it’s something. He wasn’t ready for me yet. So he left me here, so I have to continue on.”
Racist, hate-filled ramblings
Roof’s trial has been full of surprises. The 22-year-old initially wanted to represent himself in court. And this week, jurors heard an FBI agent read a series of Roof’s writings — many of which supported white supremacist views.
Those ramblings revealed why he chose the Charleston as the site of his massacre — and how he defended his white supremacist views.
Roof said he had an epiphany after learning about the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black Florida teenager shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012.
“The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up,” Roof wrote.
“I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right.”
In another excerpt, Roof claimed that blacks are more likely to be violent.
“Negroes have lower IQs, lower impulse control, and higher testosterone levels in general,” Roof wrote. “These three things alone are a recipe for violent behavior.”
Eventually, Roof said he wanted to start a race war. He decided to start with the historically black church, also known as Mother Emanuel.
“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight,” he wrote.
“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.”
So on that June evening, Roof entered the Mother Emanuel church. The Bible study group welcomed him and gave him a sheet with religious verses. He stayed with them for at least 15 minutes before unleashing his Glock .45-caliber pistol on them, prosecutors said.
“I didn’t say anything to them,” Roof said of his victims.
Laughing during his confession
Roof reiterated his racist beliefs to investigators in an FBI video of his confession, shown in court Friday.
“I went to that church in Charleston and I did it,” Roof said and then laughed, the video showed.
“Did you shoot them?” a law enforcement officer asked.
“Yes,” Roof replied, laughing again.
Asked how many people he killed that day, Roof replied calmly: “If I was going to guess, five maybe. I’m really not sure.”
Targeting Hispanics, Jews and the American flag
Another revelation from the trial: Roof’s writings denounced not just blacks, but also Hispanics and Jews.
“Hispanics are obviously a huge problem for Americans. But there are good Hispanics and bad Hispanics,” Roof wrote.
“I don’t pretend to understand why Jews do what they do. They are enigma,” he added.
He also denounced the American flag.
“I hate the sight of the American flag. Modern American patriotism is an absolute joke,” Roof wrote. “People pretending like they have something to be proud (of) while white people are being murdered daily in the streets.”
Wednesday marks the sixth day of testimony for the guilt phase of Roof’s trial.
He has pleaded not guilty to 33 federal charges, including:
— Nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death
— Nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence
— Nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
— Three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill
— Three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
The prosecution is expected to rest its case on Wednesday or Thursday, and the defense is expected to finish calling witnesses this week. Court will be in recess for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and the trial will resume on January 3.
If convicted, Roof could face the death penalty.