The New York Times has the most detailed eyewitness account yet from inside the Charleston shooting, where witnesses say Dylann Roof debated scripture with the prayer group before ultimately pulling out his gun.

According to the Times’ timeline, Roof entered the church shortly before 8 p.m., and asked for the pastor. Then he sat down next to Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was leading a weekly bible study group.

Witnesses say he sat quietly for a while, then “began to disagree with others as they spoke about Scripture.”

They said that almost an hour after he arrived, the gunman suddenly stood and pulled a gun, and Ms. Washington’s cousin Tywanza Sanders, 26, known as the peacemaker of the family, tried to calmly talk the man out of violence.

“You don’t have to do this,” he told the gunman, Ms. Washington recounted.

The gunman replied, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

The gunman took aim at the oldest person present, Susie Jackson, 87, Mr. Sanders’s aunt, Ms. Washington said. Mr. Sanders told the man to point the gun at him instead, she said, but the man said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to shoot all of you.”

Mr. Sanders dived in front of his aunt and the first shot struck him, Ms. Washington said, and then the gunman began shooting others. She said Mr. Sanders’s mother, Felicia, and his niece, lay motionless on the floor, playing dead, and were not shot.

The gunman looked at one woman and told her “that she was going to live so that she can tell the story of what happened,” said City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, a friend of the woman and a trustee of the church.

“She is still in shock, the carnage was just unbelievable is my understanding,” he said. “One of the younger kids in the church literally had to play dead, and it’s my understanding that my friend might have also laid down on top of him to protect him as well.”

Roof—who reportedly confessed to police—has been charged with nine counts of murder and is facing the death penalty.

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