A survivor of the Charleston church massacre who was spared by the gunman in order to tell the story said Wednesday that suspect Dylann Roof opened fire just as churchgoers stood to pray.
Polly Sheppard, 70, described during emotional testimony in federal court the terrifying moments after Roof, a self-avowed white supremacist, began shooting during a Bible study class, killing nine at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015. Roof faces the death penalty if he is convicted.
Some of the victims' last gasps could be heard on her 911 call — played for the first time publicly in court Wednesday.
Sheppard said she dove under a table when the shooting started and could see bullet casings as they fell from the gun.
Sheppard said she didn’t normally stay for Bible study, but Thompson asked her to stay because she was leading the session.
"For some reason, I didn't go home," Sheppard testified.
Sheppard, one of three survivors of the shooting, also looked back fondly on the friends she lost, calling victim Rev. Clementa Pinckney a “gentle giant.” Sheppard said she had known Thompson for many years.
“She would be bossing me around,” she said of her friend, to laughter in the courtroom.
Sheppard cried after leaving the witness stand as she was hugged by the victims’ families.