The last of the three Ku Klux Klan members convicted in the church bombing that killed four black girls in 1963 has died in an Alabama prison. Addie Mae Collins, Cythnia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11, were killed by the explosion as they were changing into their choir robes on a Sunday morning at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Thomas E. Blanton Jr., 82, who was convicted of murder nearly four decades later, died Friday of natural causes, AL.com reports. Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement calling Sept. 15, 1963, "a dark day that will never be forgotten in both Alabama’s history and that of our nation." Ivey said she hopes for continued "steps forward to heal, do better and honor those who sacrificed everything for Alabama and our nation to be a home of opportunity for all."
A fifth girl, Addie Mae Collins' sister, survived the bombing but lost her right eye. After Blanton died, the husband of Sarah Collins Rudolph said his wife "hopes that he found Jesus Christ and repented." During Blanton's trial, prosecutor Doug Jones, now a US senator, told the court, "Tom Blanton saw change and didn’t like it." Denise McNair's sister, Lisa, said, "I wish I could have sat down with him to find out if he had had a change of heart." Blanton never admitted to the killings and began saying when he was in prison that the government had set him up. In 2006, he told an interviewer: "I'm sorry it happened. Deeply sorry. But I’m not responsible for it." At sentencing, the judge had asked Blanton if he had anything to say. "I guess the good Lord will settle it on Judgment Day," Blanton said. (The victims' families had objected to parole for Blanton.)