The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. was always his family's protector, according to his son.
But at a Bible study on June 17, 2015, Simmons became one of the nine black victims fatally gunned down by avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof.
Dan Simmons Jr. gave his testimony Thursday in the sentencing phase of Roof's murder trial. The 22-year-old was convicted in December of murdering nine people at a historically black church in downtown Charleston nearly two years ago.
One of the things about that night that the younger Simmons told the court that he's had to grapple with was why his father, who had a concealed weapons permit, did not have his gun with him.
"It bothered me that he wasn't the protector," Simmons Jr. said. "Why didn't he do more?"
According to the State newspaper, Simmons Jr. said his father nearly always had his gun with him — even at church.
"It was hard for me, not knowing why he didn't protect everybody," he told jurors.
But when Simmons Jr. retrieved his father's car keys from the coroner, he found the weapon — still sitting in the front seat of the car. That summer day his father had left his gun outside the church.
Simmons Jr. began to sob on the stand as he detailed finding his father's gun.
Jurors have to decide whether Roof will face life in prison or the death penalty. Roof is representing himself during his sentencing phase, as he did not want a court-appointed lawyer to use his mental health as a reason that he should not be sentenced to death.
The jury has already heard from Roof, who contended that there is "nothing wrong" with him psychologically.
Chilling portions of a journal that he kept in prison have also been released to jurors, including portions where Roof contends that he does not regret what he did and feels pity for "white people that are killed daily at the hands of lower races."
Simmons Sr. was retired after more than 30 years as a pastor, according to the Post and Courier. But at 74 years old, he still led Bible study most Wednesday nights at Emanuel AME Church.
[graphiq id="edh26bKS6QB" title="Dylann Roof and the Emanuel AME Church Massacre" width="600" height="709" url="https://w.graphiq.com/w/edh26bKS6QB" link="https://www.graphiq.com/vlp/edh26bKS6QB" link_text="Graphiq" ]