BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 17 -- Two men surrendered to authorities on Wednesday after an Alabama grand jury indicted them on murder charges in a 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls.
The dynamite explosion in the basement of the church, which killed four girls and injured 22 church members, was an act of racist violence that stunned the nation and led many Southerners to reject violent resistance to integration.
Longtime suspects Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton Jr. were indicted on four counts of first-degree murder by a special state grand jury that convened on Monday, District Attorney David Barber said.
Cherry and Blanton turned themselves in on Wedesday to face the charges and were being held without bond. Cherry had been brought back to Alabama last month to face charges that he sexually abused his stepdaughter 30 years ago.
U.S. Attorney Doug Jones declined to comment on evidence prosecutors had gathered against the two men. He would not discuss their alleged roles in the bombing and said he had "no idea" when the case might go to trial.
Prosecutors said they did not plan to seek the death penalty against the two men.
"Our investigation does not stop with simply bringing the indictment," Jones said. "We continue to look for evidence. We continue to look for witnesses."
Ku Klux Klansman Robert Chambliss was convicted on a state first-degree murder charge in 1977 and was sentenced to life in prison for the bombing, which occurred as 200 people were preparing for Sunday church services.
Chambliss, a retired auto mechanic and longtime Klan member, died in prison in 1985. A relative of Chambliss, Pete Smith, alleged in a book on the bombing that Blanton, known as "Dynamite Bob," drove the getaway car.
Another suspect in the bombing, Herman Cash, died in 1994.
No charges were filed in the bombing after it occurred. The case was reopened by then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley in 1977.
Prosecutors said this week's grand jury session was part of a federal investigation that was launched in 1997 into the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing that killed 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins.
"This was a tragedy of just absolute monumental proportions. It has scarred the city of Birmingham for almost 37 years. There needs to be some kind of closure one way or another on this matter," Jones said.
In recent years, authorities have reopened their investigations into several bombings and murders that occurred during the civil rights movement.
The Bimingham church bombing was highlighted in the movies "Ghosts of Mississippi" and "4 Little Girls." It was one of 18 bombings in black Birmingham neighborhoods that occurred between 1957 and 1963.
"We have the responsibility to explore every avenue to try to resolve this issue," Barber said.