As Emanuel AME gunman gets death, looking for faith — and finding it — on victims' side

It's impossible to tell the story of the Emanuel AME church massacre without a huge dose of faith.

All along, we at GetReligion have praised the unsurpassed local coverage of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her colleagues with the Post and Courier, the daily newspaper in Charleston, S.C.

In the wake of gunman Dylann Roof receiving a federal death sentence Tuesday, we again point readers to Hawes & Co.'s banner coverage of the decision:

But I also want to call special attention to a national story on Roof's sentencing, via the New York Times: 

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dylann S. Roof, the unrepentant and inscrutable white supremacist who killed nine African-American churchgoers in a brazen racial rampage almost 19 months ago, an outburst of extremist violence that shocked the nation, was condemned to death by a federal jury on Tuesday.
The jury of nine whites and three blacks, who last month found Mr. Roof guilty of 33 counts for the attack at this city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, returned their unanimous verdict after about three hours of deliberations in the penalty phase of a heart-rending and often legally confounding trial.

The Times' story is full of strong and appropriate religion content, including this reaction:

The Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, the widower of another victim, Myra Thompson, said in an interview on Tuesday that while he remained “in awe” at how much Mr. Roof enjoyed doing what he did, he would not relinquish his forgiveness. “I forgave him, and I’m not going to take that back ever,” he said.

The story also includes this background:

The jury’s sentencing decision effectively capped Mr. Roof’s federal trial for the killings on June 17, 2015, the Wednesday when he showed up in Emanuel’s fellowship hall and was offered a seat for Bible study by the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. Mr. Roof sat quietly, his head hung low, for about 40 minutes while the group considered the Gospel of Mark’s account of the Parable of the Sower.

And this:

Mr. Roof’s rampage, which the authorities said was not coordinated with any organized groups, staggered this area, which was already reeling from the shooting death two months before of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in North Charleston.
But two days after the church killings, with a blank-faced Mr. Roof standing in the Charleston County jail, five relatives of the victims publicly offered him forgiveness during an extraordinary bond hearing. The following week, President Obama argued in a soaring eulogy for Mr. Pinckney, which culminated in an a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” that the attack’s lessons offered a way forward for race relations.
The Rev. Sharon Risher, a daughter of (victim Ethel Lee) Lance, said she harbored a deep opposition to the death penalty, but found her stand tested by Mr. Roof and his lack of remorse.
“I don’t believe in the death penalty, but I’m my mother’s child and with everything that’s happened sometimes I want him to die,” Ms. Risher, who watched the entire trial, said in an interview on Monday. “It’s like, you know what, this fool continues to just be evil. I’m just glad that they didn’t leave that decision to me. I just reconciled myself that whatever they decided he will never see the light of day again.”

Yes, as seems to be the case most days since Donald Trump's surprise election as president, Washington, D.C., politics dominates today's Times front page (and those of other newspapers across the nation).

But unlike the Washington Post (which played the Emanuel AME story inside its main news section), the Times found a spot for the Roof sentencing at the bottom right of A1:

And these closing paragraphs reward readers who follow the story all the way to the end:

Mr. Graham reflected Tuesday that someday Mr. Roof could adopt a strong Christian faith.
“He decided the day, the hour and the moment that my sister was going to die, and now someone is going to do the same to him,” he said. “But unlike my sister, he has another chance. He’s in God’s hands, and if he turns his life around, and if he makes a humble confession to God, when he gets there, when he gets there, he can join my sister and the others in heaven.”

I'll say it again: It's impossible to tell the story of the Emanuel AME church massacre without a huge dose of faith.

Look for that angle to be even more powerful in coverage of today's victim impact statements. Just a sampling from Hawes' Twitter feed:

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