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Families of Charleston Massacre Victims Reach $88 Million Settlement

The Justice Department reached an $88 million settlement with the families of nine Black parishioners who were 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.

The survivors and the victims’ families had sued the government for wrongful death and physical injuries, accusing the authorities of negligence in the background check system that allowed the gunman to purchase a firearm, 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.

“This is what the law is about. We cannot bring back those nine victims. We cannot erase the scars that those survivors have,” Bakari Sellers, one of the lawyers for the families, said Thursday at a news conference in Washington, D.C. “But what we do here today as lawyers in these families is we say we stand on justice.”

“These victims were the best of the best of us” Mr. Sellers said.

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

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 S. Roof, had been prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm, the department’s statement said.

Among those who appeared on Thursday at the news conference were Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the 41-year-old pastor of Emanuel and a state senator; and the Rev. Anthony Thompson, whose wife, Myra Thompson, was also killed.

“The healing process is taking place every day, and it is due not to the settlement,” Mr. Thompson said. “It is due to the courageous and committed acts of the people in the community, people in our church, in our state, people in this nation.”

Ms. Pinckney, who survived the shooting, was also accompanied by her two daughters, Eliana and Malana.

“When I was 6 years old when this terrible massacre happened, I didn’t know that my father was such a big inspiration to people all over the world,” Malana said. “So something I want to leave you with today here is just because you came from nothing, doesn’t mean that you can’t be something.”

Eliana added, “My sister and I are going to go home realizing that the government didn’t sit in silence, but they paid attention, and they valued my father’s life and they value the lives of the eight other people who died.”

The Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother, Ethel Lee Lance, was killed in the shooting, said in a statement that the settlement was “a great relief.”

“It recognizes the value of the victims’ lives and highlights the need to strengthen our background check system for firearms.” she said.

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.

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.

According to Mr. Comey, the F.B.I., which operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, had received a call from a dealer in South Carolina seeking approval to sell a gun to Mr. Roof. The bureau said it needed to do more investigating of Mr. Roof’s criminal history.

Information about Mr. Roof’s admission to having been in possession of a controlled substance had made its way into a database called the National Data Exchange, but it was not unearthed during the background check.

Under federal law, the F.B.I. has three business days to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to deny the purchase of a gun. After the waiting period expired, Mr. Roof returned to the store and bought the gun.

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