Families of Charleston Massacre Victims Reach $88 Million Settlement

The settlement with the Justice Department includes millions for the families and survivors of the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015.

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The Justice Department reached an $88 million settlement with the families of nine Black parishioners killed by a white supremacist in a South Carolina church in 2015, and with survivors of the shooting, the authorities and lawyers said on Thursday.

The settlement includes millions for families of the victims and survivors of the shooting, in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically Black church in Charleston. It resolves lawsuits that accused the government of negligence in its background check system that allowed the gunman to purchase a firearm.

The survivors and the victims’ families had sued the government for wrongful death and physical injuries, the department said. The settlement amounts range from $6 million to $7.5 million for those killed, and $5 million for survivors, the department said in a statement.

“The mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church was a horrific hate crime that caused immeasurable suffering for the families of the victims and the survivors,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in the statement. “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.”

The court must approve the settlements for many of the plaintiffs, it said.

“These victims were the best of the best of us,” Bakari Sellers, one of the lawyers for the families, said at a news conference in Washington on Thursday.

The lawsuits alleged that the F.B.I.’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks System failed to discover in a “timely” manner that the gunman, Dylann Roof, had been prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm, the department’s statement said.

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Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s wife, Jennifer Pinckney, center, and her daughters, Eliana, right, and Malana, left, entered the church St. John A.M.E. Church during a viewing in Ridgeland, S.C., in 2015Credit…Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

Mr. Roof, who was 21 at the time, had been allowed to buy the .45-caliber handgun he used in the killings because of a breakdown in the federal gun background check system, the F.B.I. said. He had been arrested in February 2015 by the police in Columbia, S.C., on a drug possession charge, which should have disqualified him from the gun purchase.

On June 17, 2015, Mr. Roof entered the church’s fellowship hall and was offered a seat for Bible study. After about 40 minutes, when the parishioners’ eyes were closed for prayer, Mr. Roof began to fire seven magazines of hollow-point rounds.

Mr. Roof, a white supremacist, was sentenced to death by a federal jury in 2017.

Weeks after the shooting, James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director at the time, said Mr. Roof had exploited a three-day waiting period that has allowed thousands of prohibited buyers to legally purchase firearms.

The Justice Department’s inspector general had been investigating the three-day loophole for some time, Mr. Comey said.

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