charleston shooting
Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21, into the courthouse in Shelby, North CarolinaJason Miczek/reuters

The family of Dylann Roof have spoken of their shock and grief following the deaths of nine people in a racist massacre in a Charleston church.

Roof, 21, is accused of killing the worshippers during a Bible study group at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Extending their deepest sympathies to relatives of the shooting victims the family of the suspected gunman said in a statement they are "devastated and saddened" by the attack that left the community and the nation reeling.

"Words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed this week," the statement reads.

During an emotional court hearing earlier on Friday 29 June relatives of some of the nine victims of the shooting said they forgave the suspect, as he made his first appearance in court via video link, less than 48 hours after the massacre. Dylann stood motionless, unmoved by their words or the sound of their sobbing.

Responding to their remarkable expressions of forgiveness in the face of such personal loss and tragedy, Roof's family said: "We have all been touched by the moving words from the victims' families offering God's forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.

"Our hope and prayer is for peace and healing for the families of the victim, the Charleston community, and those touched by these events throughout the state of South Carolina and our nation," said the statement.

Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Church on 16 June night as they attended their weekly bible study session. Seconds before the attack, authorities said Roof stood up and announced he was there to "shoot black people." Parishioners pleaded with the gunman not to open fire, but he according to eyewitnesses he said: "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country, and you have to go."

He reloaded five times in the course of the massacre. The victims — six women and three men — ranged in age from 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, a recent graduate of Charleston's Allen University, to 87-year-old long-time church member Susie Jackson.

charleston shooting
Top row from left: Pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26. Middle row from left: Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87. Bottom row from left: DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Singleton, 45; Daniel Simmons Sr, 74

Roof was arrested on Thursday (18 June) morning at traffic lights 250 miles from the attack.

It has now emerged that Dylann Roof's own sister reported her brother to police after identifying him as the Charleston gunman.

According to FBI sources Amber Roof, 27, called authorities on Wednesday (17 June) after seeing his image on CCTV footage released during an overnight manhunt.

The Daily Mail reports that Amber was to be married on Sunday to US Army Reserve Recruiter, Michael Tyo, but has cancelled the wedding in the wake of the tragedy.

Dylann had not been included in the wedding party as friends and family have described him as a loner who was increasingly introverted in recent months.

The uncle of the 21-year-old has said Dylann should be killed if convicted of the massacre. Carson Cowles even said "[I'd] push the button myself" if Dylann Roof, is found deserving of the state's death penalty.

In an interview with ABC'S Good Morning America, he said: "I'll be the one to push the button. If he's found guilty, I'll be the one to push the button myself. If what I am hearing is true, he needs to pay for it."

The day before, in an interview outside his mobile home in Gaston, South Carolina, Cowles said nobody in the family suspected Roof was capable of a massacre.

He told the Washington Post that his mother "never raised him to be like this. The whole world is going to be looking at his family who raised this monster," he added.

Nikke Haley, the governor of South Carolina, has called for Dylann Roof to face the death penalty for his crimes. She said: "This is a state hurt by the fact that nine innocent people were killed. We will absolutely want him to have the death penalty."

Roof has reportedly already confessed to law enforcement officials that he killed the victims, claiming he intended to start a 'race war.'

He revealed that he almost backed out of carrying out the attack because "everyone was so nice" to him.

Police are investigating the shooting as a hate crime and as a possible "act of domestic terrorism".

The massacre in the historic African American church was the deadliest attack on a place of worship in the US in 24 years.