Charleston Church Shooting Survivor Recounts Watching Her Son Die at Dylann Roof Trial

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, N.C.) --  When Dylann Roof opened fire at a church in Charleston last summer, Felicia Sanders clutched her granddaughter tight and told her to play dead.

"I muzzled her face to my body so tight," she testified in federal court. "I could feel the warm blood flowing on each side of me."

"I was just waiting on my turn," she said. "Even if I got shot, I just didn't want my granddaughter to get shot."

 Amidst the chaos and the bloodshed, her youngest son, Tywanza, stood up and confronted the assailant: "Why are you doing this?" he asked, according to Sanders' testimony.

"And he told our son, 'I have to do this because ya'll raping our women and taking over the world,'" Sanders said. "And that's when [the gunman] put about five bullets in my son."

A tearful Sanders then recalled watching her son die.

"We watched him take his last breath," she said. "I watched my son come into this world, and I watched my son leave this world."

Roof, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners, including Sanders' son, during a Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Sanders and her granddaughter survived without physical injury.

Roof, who was 21 at the time, entered the Emanuel AME Church armed and "with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs," according to the federal indictment against him. The parishioners welcomed Roof into their Bible study group, according to the indictment, after which Roof drew his pistol and opened fire.

The 33 federal counts against Roof include hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death.

Roof has pleaded not guilty.

He also faces a state trial, set for early next year, in which he may also face the death penalty.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


One Officer Dead, One Critically Injured After Shooting Near Georgia Southwestern State University

iStock/Thinkstock(AMERICUS, Ga.) -- One police officer is dead, and another officer is in critical condition after a shooting near Georgia Southwestern State University today.

The officers — one with the local police department and one with the school — were called to a domestic dispute off campus when they encountered the suspect, said Americus Police Chief Mark Scott.

Americus Police Officer Nicholas Smarr, 25, was dispatched at 9:40 a.m. to the apartment complex -- at the same time Georgia Southwestern State University Officer Jodi Smith, who responded as backup, Scott said.

Gunshots were exchanged between the officers and the suspect, 32-year-old Minguel Kennedy Lembrick, and both officers were shot, Scott said.

Smarr died from his injuries, Scott said, while Smith was taken to the hospital in very critical condition, Scott said.

Lembrick is still on the loose and is considered to be armed and dangerous, Scott said.

Police are unsure if Lembrick is still in the area and are following up on tips on where he may be hiding.

The Georgia Southwestern State University campus was placed under lockdown in response to the shooting. People on campus were advised to shelter in place. No students were hurt or endangered, the school said.

The university campus sits in the center of Americus, so often campus police officers will assist city police, said Mike Tracey, Chief of Police at Georgia Southwestern State University.

The FBI and Georgia Bureau of Investigation are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Lembrick.

Smarr had been with the Americus Police Department since 2012. His body will be taken to Georgia Bureau of Investigation office in Macon in the morning, said GBI Director Vernon Keenan.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Two Juveniles Charged With Aggravated Arson in Deadly Tennessee Wildfires

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with the deadly Tennessee wildfires that have killed 14 people and destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The teens were taken into custody this morning and are being held at the Sevier County juvenile detention center, said Sevier County District Attorney Jimmy Dunn. Authorities are looking to see if more charges are possible, Dunn said.

They are entitled to have a detention hearing in the next 72 hours, Dunn said. A juvenile court judge will decide if they will be held with bond or without bond. Transferring the teens to adult court is also under consideration, Dunn said.

The juveniles' identities were not released. They are not from Sevier County but are residents of Tennessee, Dunn said.

Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, offered his condolences to the victims and said the agency is "committed to making sure justice is served with this case."

Great Smoky Mountain Superintendent Cassius Cash thanked those who responded to the tip line, saying the "information was critical."

More than 130 people have been injured as a direct result of the fires, according to officials.

Parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most popular of America's national parks, has been devastated by the fires. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the mountains a "special place" to Tennesseans during a press conference last Friday.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Prosecutor: Accused Charleston Church Shooter Stood over Victims Shooting Repeatedly

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old accused of killing nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, stood over his victims, shooting them over and over again, the prosecution argued this morning at Roof's federal trial.

The victims — including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a church pastor and a member of the South Carolina Senate — ran for cover, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, as each magazine was emptied and shell casings tumbled across the parish hall. Then Roof "reloaded ... standing over victims, and he kept shooting and shooting," Richardson said.

After the shooting ended, Richardson said, Roof “left behind a scene that nobody can fathom. He walked out calmly, looking both ways … Expecting law enforcement to respond to his horrid attack."

Richardson said today — as Roof appeared dressed in prison blues and whites in the packed courtroom — that the government will prove that Roof's "attack was cold and calculated" and was "racist retribution for perceived offenses against the white race."

Roof, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners during a Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Roof, who was 21 at the time, entered the Emanuel AME Church armed and "with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs," according to the federal indictment against him. The parishioners welcomed Roof into their Bible study group, according to the indictment, after which Roof drew his pistol and opened fire.

 Richardson argued that Roof prepared for the attack, stockpiling ammunition and conducting target practice. Richardson told the court Roof called the church four months before the attack and made frequent stops there to check it out. Roof "chose that church because of the impact it had, the manner in which it would resonate across the nation," Richardson said.

On that night, as the Bible study came to a close, the parishioners stood to pray, Richardson told the court. "It was at that time that defendant made clear what he had been planning for months," he said. "Instead of a Bible to study, the defendant chose to bring a .45-caliber pistol.

"Still seated in a chair that Rev. Pinckney had provided for him, he pulled the .45-caliber Glock and shot Rev. Pinckney,” Richardson said. People then ran for cover, but Roof reloaded and kept shooting, Richardson said.

"As the defendant continued with his assaults, Polly Sheppard could see his boots walking closer and closer to her," Richardson said. Roof allegedly told her he would keep "her alive to tell the story of what he had done," Richardson said.

Victim Tywanza Sanders interjected and stood up, even though he had already been shot, and allegedly told Roof that he didn't have to do this, Richardson said.

Roof allegedly responded, "Y'all are raping our white women. Y'all are taking over the world," and then shot Tywanza repeatedly, Richardson said.

Richardson said in his opening statement that Roof "wrote a manifesto that he wanted to be read around the world," that Roof "claimed white superiority ... His manifesto was a call to arms. A belief that it was not too late take this country back from black Americans."

After Roof was arrested, he wanted to continue to share his message and he confessed fully in an interview, Richardson said.

He said Roof's two-hour confession was recorded and will be played in court.

"He admitted that he almost didn't do it, that he almost walked out the door," Richardson said. "But in the end he decided, that he just had to do it."

In the video confession, Roof described pacing around the room, shooting victim after victim, Richardson told the court. "He also talked about a call to arms," Richardson said, and hoped that "this would lead to a race war ... that he could send a message to other white people to stand up and do something."

Richardson continued: "After months of planning ... he chose to execute nine of those innocent men and women. ... He pulled the trigger on that Glock 45 more than 70 times that night."

Warning that "this is going to be a long and difficult trial," Richardson said, "We're going to ask you to find the defendant guilty."

Richardson added: "His assault on a house of worship will not win in this courtroom."

In the defense's opening statements, attorney David Brock told the court, "He did it. ... You're probably wondering, so what we are doing here? Why does there need to be a trial? ... The practical reason is that the government has asked for the death penalty after conviction, and because of that, we have a procedure to go through.

"... The question is not just did Dylan Roof commit this crime, but who is he? Where did this come from?" Brock said.

"Our society does not order the death penalty if there are reasons to choose life," Brock added. "You're going to want to understand who this person was and why on earth he would want to cause so much grief."

He continued: "Among the elements of the crime are racial hatred, in considering that issue, ask yourself where this extraordinary degree of racial feeling came from. ... How much sense does this crime make? Does it make any sense at all? And if not, what does that tell you?"

Brock said the jury must "go deeper than the surface with this awful crime, and it won't be easy to do that. ...This is going to be hard. It's going to be unbearable at times. You are going to see things you don't ever want to see."

 Tywanza Sanders' mother, shooting survivor Felicia Sanders, took the stand today after opening statements, telling the court that she saw her son get shot about five times.

A tearful Sanders then recalled watching her son die.

"We watched him take his last breath," she said. "I watched my son come into this world, and I watched my son leave this world."

Sgt. Justin Kniess of the Charleston police testified today as well, saying there were victims on the ground, shell casings on the ground and a child running and screaming at the scene.

Video from his body camera was played in court, in which the sounds of people crying for help inside can be heard. In the video, someone points to the door the gunman apparently left through.

The video shows someone from the church come in weeping; police take her out.

As the video was played in court, Roof looked down toward the desk.

According to the federal indictment, Roof hoped the attack would "increase racial tensions across the Nation" and bring "retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African-Americans had committed against white people."

According to the indictment, Roof maintained a website on which he posted "a manuscript and photographs expressing his racist beliefs." In the manuscript, he used racial slurs and decried integration, the indictment states. The photos include one of Roof holding a confederate flag, according to the indictment.

The 33 federal counts against him include hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death.

Roof has pleaded not guilty.

He also faces a state trial, set for early next year, in which he may also face the death penalty.
Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Winter Storm Slams North Dakota

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Residents in North Dakota are still digging themselves out of their homes after a severe blizzard swept through the state earlier this week.

Authorities in Minot, North Dakota, issued a travel advisory to community members because of the treacherous weather conditions. The Minot International Airport reopened Wednesday morning after closing for nearly 12 hours because of snow and strong winds, the airport's director Rick Feltner told ABC News.

Videos of the airport's runway conditions were posted on Facebook.

"We had a blizzard warning in effect starting Sunday night ... and this was on top of about 17 inches of snow we got last week. While the storm didn’t produce a great deal of new snow, the temperatures plummeted and the wind picked up 30-35 miles per hour. In those conditions, visibility is greatly reduced," said Feltner.

"It was an unusual situation for us to close the airport. We’re usually pretty good at keeping things open here but it was more than we could keep up with this time," he added.

Roommates Lauren Otradovec and Natasha Harvey live 20 miles north of Minot in Glenburn. On Tuesday morning, they opened the front door to their house to find a second door ... of snow.

"I honestly felt claustrophobic. I didn't want to feel like there was no way out," Harvey told ABC News. So she attempted to shovel her way out.

"We shoveled our side door and within an hour all the snow had blown back in. We're at the same point today," she added.

"There are hardly any trees here and we live in a really small town so the wind is pushing everything to our direction. The first layer on our house is pretty much ice and the snow that keeps blowing is just freezing to that," she explained.

Harvey hasn't been able to make it to work for the past two days. "I'm used to this weather but this is crazy," Harvey said.

The National Weather Service's wind chill advisory is in effect for most of western North Dakota. The temperature in some areas is expected to feel like 30 degrees below zero with the wind chill.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Search for Victims in Oakland Warehouse Fire Concludes

ABC News(OAKLAND, Calif.) -- The rigorous search for bodies in the rubble of a fatal warehouse fire in Oakland, California, concluded Wednesday, with the death toll remaining at 36, police said.

Authorities will begin reopening the street on which the charred structure is located around 3:30 p.m. local time, according to the Oakland Police Department.

Officials found 36 victims inside the large warehouse and most were in their 20s and 30s. So far, 35 of them have been identified and 30 families have been notified. A 17-year-old's name will not be released, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau.

Although crews have finished their search for victims, investigators are still working to find the cause of the horrific blaze that broke out on Dec. 2. An official briefed on the investigation told ABC News that a refrigerator is being eyed as the "possible" point of origin.

Investigators are also working to determine if there was criminal liability for the fire and, if so, who was responsible, according to Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

As many as 100 people were at the warehouse for a concert party when what authorities described as an "electrical fire" broke out just before midnight on Nov. 2. The venue, known as the "Ghost Ship," ultimately became a grave for dozens of the young party-goers.

The Oakland Fire Department first responded to reports of a structure fire at the warehouse on 31st Avenue in the East Bay area at around 11:32 p.m. Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said the warehouse appeared to function as a residential building that hosted a makeshift artists' studio, as well as parties like the one that took place that night. Most of the bodies were found on the second floor, which was accessible by a makeshift stairwell assembled with various materials, according to Reed.

Darin Ranelletti, the interim director of the city's planning and building department, told reporters that the party at the Ghost Ship required a permit, which he said was not obtained. The property is under investigation to determine whether it was used to house people illegally, Ranelletti said.

The power went out inside the building when the fire started and the flames blocked the building's only exit, making it difficult for people inside to escape, an official briefed on the ongoing investigation told ABC News.

Alameda County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said some of those trapped upstairs had just enough time to send final text messages to loved ones. Some of these messages read "I'm going to die" and "I love you," Kelly said.

Survivors of the inferno who spoke to ABC News recalled waking up to "smoke and an entire wall of fire" that was so powerful it opened a window, letting in oxygen that apparently intensified the flames.

The Ghost Ship is purportedly run by a married couple, Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison, but the building is owned by Chor Nar Siu Ng, a woman who appeared to have little involvement with its use for artists' studios and as a performance space for musicians.

"They're my children. They're my friends. They're my family. They're my loves. They're my future. What else do I have to say?" Almena told ABC affiliate KGO on Sunday.

Almena also appeared to address the fire in a Facebook post early Saturday morning by saying that what he worked for was destroyed, but he failed to elaborate on what work he put into the warehouse prior to the tragedy.

"Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound ... it's as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope ... to be standing now in poverty of self worth," Almena wrote.

On Tuesday night, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf declared a local state of emergency to facilitate state and federal aid. City officials also released records on the building's reported complaints.

The most recent city record on the property is dated just days before the deadly fire. The Nov. 14 notice shows an "investigation pending" for "illegal interior building structure," an apparent reference to the illegal living spaces constructed inside the warehouse. A day prior to that, the building's owner was notified of a code violation. The records say "a ton of garbage [is] piling up on the property," including "hazardous" trash.

Oakland police said that they have responded to numerous calls about the warehouse in the past, but it is unclear how many. It is also unknown whether authorities will hold Almena, Allison or Ng accountable for the deaths in the fire.

The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse, according to a press release from the City of Oakland. The city said it received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building this year on Nov. 13. Days later, a city building inspector visited the property on Nov. 17 and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction.

The investigation is ongoing, the city said.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Obama Remembers Lives Lost at Pearl Harbor 75 Years After Attack

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama ordered flags at the White House to be lowered to half-staff on Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The attack at the naval base happened on Dec. 7, 1941, when the U.S. Navy came under attack by Japan. The sudden strike that catapulted the United States into WWII.

In all, more than 2,400 American lives were lost, along with numerous battleships and aircraft.

"Today, Michelle and I join the American people in remembering those who gave their lives at Pearl Harbor—many of them not much older than boys—and in honoring their families—spouses, siblings, sons and daughters who still carry the memories of their loved ones in their hearts," the president said in a statement Wednesday.

"We give thanks to the veterans and survivors of Pearl Harbor who faced down fear itself, met infamy with intrepidity, freed captive peoples from fascism and whose example inspires us still," he added.

You can read Obama's full statement here.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


NC Governor-Elect Faces Uphill Battle to Repeal HB2

iStock/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- North Carolina’s Democratic governor-elect, Roy Cooper, may be powerless to repeal a controversial law that restricted the right of transgender people in the state to use a public bathroom of their choosing even though he called for scrapping the law during his campaign, according to some experts who spoke with ABC News.

The state’s outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the measure, known as House Bill 2, into law. On Monday, McCrory conceded the gubernatorial race to Cooper, the state's attorney general.

Cooper has called House Bill 2 “one of the most discriminatory laws in the country.”

In exit poll results from Election Day, a vast majority of North Carolina voters -- 66 percent -- said they opposed the bathroom law, while 29 percent supported it.

But legal experts told ABC News repealing the law could be difficult for the incoming governor.

Cooper’s Hands May Be Tied

Republicans still hold a majority in the state's General Assembly after this November’s election, and they are unlikely to introduce legislation to repeal it, said Bill Marshall, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"I think the voters sent a pretty clear message in North Carolina that they were dissatisfied with HB2, but we have yet to see if the legislature will understand what the votes of this past election mean," Marshall told ABC News in an interview last month.

“They certainly haven’t shown any sign that they are willing to do this thus far,” University of North Carolina law professor Maxine Eichner said in an interview with ABC News.

Shannon Gilreath, a professor of law at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, agreed.

"Even though Cooper has been a vocal opponent of this law, its repeal still requires the Republican-dominated legislature to acquiesce," Gilreath told ABC News in an interview last month. The governor, he added, “does not have the power to override the legislative process."

Cooper’s Options

A repeal proposal seems unlikely unless "Cooper is able to put enough pressure on the legislature," according to Gilreath.

Cooper "could try to appeal to the public by talking about how much HB2 has cost the state," he said. "We've lost millions of dollars in potential revenue because of business we've lost over the bill."

“I expect there are ways that Governor-elect Cooper could use political appointments and other executive orders to send a message more welcoming to the LGBT community, but he can’t do that in a way that violates HB2,” Eichner said.

Where Does Trump Stand?

On Election Day, North Carolina voted for Donald Trump.

When Trump was campaigning for president, he initially voiced his opposition to the “bathroom” bill in an interview with NBC, pointing to the “economic punishment” the state has faced for implementing the bill. McCrory signed the bill in March.

"Leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go. They use the bathroom they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” Trump said on NBC's Today show in April.

But in an interview with The News & Observer in July, Trump said he spoke with McCrory and he was “going with the state.”

“The state, they know what’s going on, they see what’s happening, and generally speaking I’m with the state on things like this. I’ve spoken with your governor, I’ve spoken with a lot of different people, and I’m going with the state,” Trump said at the time.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Experts: Jurors Reluctant to Convict Police in Cases of Officer-Involved Deaths

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A mistrial was declared Monday in the murder trial of a former South Carolina police officer who was accused in the shooting death of an unarmed black man -- the latest in a string of officer-involved deaths that did not result in convictions.

The reason for lack of convictions in office-involved deaths could lie with the jurors, who are often reluctant to convict police officers, according to experts interviewed by ABC News.

"What we see time and time again is that jurors are very reluctant to second-guess the split-second life-or-death decisions that a police officer makes," said Philip Stinson, a former police officer and criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University who researches police-involved incidents and crimes.

Jurors are "unwilling to conclude that an on-duty police officer could be a murderer," Stinson said.

The law is "pretty clear" that police officers are to be judged by "different standards," said Sunny Hostin, senior legal correspondent and analyst for ABC News. Officers are judged, not in hindsight, but by "what a reasonable officer at the scene would have done," she said.

"I think [the jurors] sometimes give that police officer the benefit of the doubt" because they are "trained to shoot if they are in danger," Hostin said.

"Jurors understand that police officers have a very difficult job," she said. "They put their lives on the line every day to protect us. They have a hard time convicting someone whose job is to protect and serve."

Somewhere between 900 and 1,100 people are shot and killed by an on-duty police officer every year, Stinson said, and additional people are killed in a manner not involving a gun.

"The vast majority of office-involved deaths are done by shooting," most of which are found to be legally justified, which means that "the officer had a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious or bodily injury or deadly force being used against the officer or someone else," Stinson said.

Since 2005, when Stinson began studying police-involved incidents, a total of 78 state and local police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting, he said. Of those cases, 27 officers have been convicted to date -- 14 by jury trial and 13 by guilty plea, Stinson said. Of those convictions, only one officer was convicted of murder: James Ashby of the Rocky Ford (Colorado) Police Department, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

There has also been a recent uptick in police being charged in officer-involved deaths due to the abundance of video evidence provided by cellphone, surveillance and police dash-cam and body-cam, Stinson said. In 2015, 18 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting. In 2016 so far, 12 officers have been charged. In comparison, in the decade preceding 2015, from 2005 to 2014, 48 officers were charged -- an average of fewer than five officers a year.

"Many, if not all of those officers would not have been charged had it not been for the video evidence," Stinson said.

"In the past, police have owned the narrative in these cases," he added. "What they say happened is what gets put into the official record. What we're seeing with video evidence is the initial statement is inconsistent with the video evidence. Either their recollections are faulty or they're lying."

But even the most compelling video evidence often isn't enough to convict the officer.

"Although those cases being brought are on the upswing, in large part due to ubiquitous cellphone video, we're still not getting a significant conviction rate as prosecutors," Hostin said.

Police officers are "entitled to receive the same due process and the same presumption of innocence that any other American citizen enjoys," said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. "The right to a fair trial is an integral piece of that equation."

"Every case is judged on its own merits and is unique in and of itself," Pasco said.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


FBI: 'No Evidence' LA Metro Terror Threat Credible

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — The FBI has found no evidence that the terror threat that caused heightened security at Los Angeles Metro stations on Tuesday is credible, an FBI official said on Tuesday.

Officials now believe the tip may have come from an individual who has made previous reports that turned out to be false.

"Based on significant similarities, law enforcement partners also believe the anonymous caller may have, on a previous occasion, reported threats that did not materialize," the official said.

"The Joint Terrorism Task Force will continue to investigate to determine the identity of the caller and will continue to evaluate information developed from investigative efforts."

The tip, called in anonymously by an individual in Australia, caused local and federal law enforcement to deploy security measures that included large water-filled barriers, a bomb-sniffing dog and heavily armed Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies at the city's Universal City Metro station, according to KABC.

Any individual who knowingly provides false threat information to law enforcement is subject to prosecution, the FBI warned.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

ABC News Radio