Who is Felicia Sanders? Charleston church shooting survivor played dead next to dying son as Dylann Roof shot him

Sanders was one of the only three survivors including her granddaughter and another woman called Polly Sheppard


                            Who is Felicia Sanders? Charleston church shooting survivor played dead next to dying son as Dylann Roof shot him
Felicia Sanders played dead as Dylann Roof shot 9 (Getty Images/Charleston Police handout)
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For the last six years, Charleston church shooting survivor Felicia Sanders has wondered why she was left alive when Dylan Roof opened fire and took the lives of her aunt, her son and seven others. Sanders was part of the group of 12 parishioners who had gathered for a Bible study at South Carolina's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when Roof shot all of them and killed nine.

Roof was sentenced to death following a trial where he showed an absolute lack of remorse, which Sanders had to sit through as well. She has described Roof as "pure evil" in interviews to GQ.

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Who is Felicia Sanders?

Sanders was one of the only three survivors including her granddaughter and another woman called Polly Sheppard. She no longer attends the Emanuel AME Church, reports the outlet Today.com. The prayer group had openly welcomed Roof to the church's basement on that fateful day, thinking he was joining them in their 40-minute Bible study session. When they closed their eyes in prayer, Roof pulled out his gun — a birthday gift from his father — and began shooting from point black range. 

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Sanders had made news during Roof's trial when she openly told the courtroom that Roof "belonged in the pit of hell", wrote New York-based essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for GQ. The trauma of Roof unleashing his horror upon the innocents, the sounds of raining bullets had forbidden Sanders from even so much as closing her eyes to pray. GQ reports she cannot stand the sound of firecrackers or acorns popping due to the trauma endured on June 17, 2015. Sanders was forced to play dead, lying next to her dying son as she held her hand tight over her granddaughter's mouth to escape Roof's bullets.

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Felicia Sanders (R) and Polly Sheppard, survivors of the Emanuel AME shooting (Getty Images)

Sanders's son and aunt were among the deceased

Sanders' elderly aunt Susie Jackson was also among the group, and had been shot the most — 11 times. Sanders' son Tywanza Sanders was the youngest of the deceased: he was 26, just five years older than the shooter at the time. Tywanza tried reasoning with Roof at first, and when that attempt failed, he got up to shield his mother, aunt Susie, and his niece from Roof's barrel. Tywanza died with his hand stretched out towards his beloved aunt Susie, accomplishing to somehow save his mother.

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Sanders also lost a beloved friend in Cynthia Hurd, whom she had personally asked to stay for the prayer meeting. According to GQ, Sanders had told Hurd "If you love me, you will stay," and the doting librarian listened to her. A year later, while speaking to Today.com, Sanders reflected “I was left here to tell my story to let the world know that God is real. If I can change a white supremacist’s life, somebody who’s thinking about going to shoot up a school or shoot up a church or shoot anyone, if I can change one or two of their lives, it’ll be worth it.”

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