Gunman kills five students at Amish school

Gunman kills five students at Amish school

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Charles Roberts enters the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where he fatally shoots five female students and wounds five more before turning his gun on himself and dying by suicide.

Charles Carl Roberts IV, a 32-year-old milk truck driver from a nearby town, entered the one-room schoolhouse at around 10:30 a.m. armed with an arsenal of weapons, ammunition, tools and other items including toilet paper that indicated he planned for the possibility of a long standoff. He forced the 15 boys and several women with infants inside the school to leave and made the 11 girls present line up against the blackboard. Police were contacted about the hostage situation at approximately 10:30 a.m. When they arrived at the schoolhouse a short time later, Roberts had barricaded the school doors with boards he had brought with him and tied up his hostages. Roberts spoke briefly with his wife by cell phone and said he was upset with God over the death of his baby daughter in 1997. He also told her he had molested two girls 20 years earlier and was having fantasies about molesting children again. At approximately 11 a.m., Roberts spoke with a 911 dispatcher and said if the police didn’t leave he’d start shooting. Seconds after, he shot five of the students. When authorities stormed the schoolhouse, Roberts shot himself in the head.

Roberts, a father of three, had no criminal history or record of mental illness. Additionally, his family knew nothing about his claims that he had molested two young female relatives. The Amish community, known for their religious devotion, as well as wearing traditional clothing and shunning certain modern conveniences, consoled Roberts’ wife in the wake of the tragedy; some members even attended his funeral. Ten days after the shootings, the Amish tore down the schoolhouse and eventually built a new one nearby.

Amish School Shooter's Widow, Marie Monville, Speaks Out

Sept. 30, 2013 -- The wife of the man who stormed into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pa., seven years ago, shooting 10 schoolgirls, five of them fatally, will never forget the phone call she got from her husband early that morning.

He said she would never see him again, and she pleaded with him to come home and talk to her, even though she had no idea of the horror he was about to unleash.

The crime stunned the nation, not only because of the brutality against young children, but because it took place in traditional Christian community whose residents are known for their peaceable ways and avoidance of the modern world.

The gunman was Charles Roberts, a father of three and husband. Roberts, his wife, Marie, and their children lived one mile away from the school.

His then-wife -- who has since remarried and taken the last name Monville -- is now talking about the tragedy that changed so many lives, including her own.

In an interview with ABC News' Amy Robach, Monville, 35, was asked if she knew why her husband did what he did.

Monville described Roberts as an even-tempered man who had periodic, brief bouts of depression. She said they'd grown a bit distant from each other in their marriage, but had no inkling that her 32-year-old husband could commit such an act.

On the morning of Oct. 2, 2006, Roberts, a milk truck driver, saw his children off to the school bus and kissed his wife goodbye before leaving the house, but three hours later, he called to tell Marie that he was never coming home, and that he'd left her a letter. His voice sounded "flat and lifeless."

She immediately became alarmed, and pleaded with him to reconsider what he was about to do. Monville told Robach she thought he was going to commit suicide.

'It Was Too Late'

"I just thought it was something that he was doing to himself," she said. "I had no idea that it was going to involve other people. And he didn't allude to that on the phone in any way."

She recalled that she was "begging him" to come home and talk, but "he was telling me that it was too late."

In his letter to her, her husband wrote about the loss of their first daughter, Elise, in 1997, Monville said. Elise, the couple's first child, died 20 minutes after being born three months premature.

"And in some way he felt like he was getting back at the Lord for the loss that we had sustained," she said.

He also told her that he'd molested two family members decades ago, but Monville said police investigated that claim and could not prove it.

When she read the letter, she called 911 because she felt something bad was going to happen to her husband.

That morning, she heard sirens blaring. Police cars were passing by, and helicopters were flying overhead. When police knocked on her door, her dread intensified.

"When I opened the door I said to them 'It's Charlie, isn't it?' And they said 'yes.' And I said, 'and he's dead, isn't he?' And they said 'yes,'" she said.

When she learned that he hadn't just killed himself, but had shot little girls, she cried. Police were positive her husband was responsible, and she believed them.

"There were so many things to do, and so many questions to answer," she said.

Roberts had reportedly ordered the male teacher and male students out of the schoolroom at West Nickel Mines Amish School, along with a pregnant woman and parents with young children. Police say he barricaded himself in the room with the female students, lined them up against the blackboard, and shot them.

In an apparent effort to buy time for her classmates, Marian Fisher, 13, the oldest of the five girls who were killed, reportedly asked Roberts to shoot her first.

Mentally Ill?

Asked if she believed her husband was mentally ill, she replied: "On that day, he was absolutely mentally ill. I don't see how someone could so something like that and not be."

In the years since the shooting, Monville has spent time with counselors, trying to understand how the shooting could have happened.

"It was suggested to me that all those years of undealt-with depression resulted in a psychotic break," she said. "And I think we all want answers. And while that . is, to some degree, an answer, it's still not an answer. Because all the times that I said, 'Why don't you talk about this with someone? Can you talk about it with me? Can you talk about it with your parents? Could you talk about it with someone at church? Don't you have a friend you could talk about this with?' And I was always met with the same resistance and the same 'No, I can handle this on my own.' It was obvious at the end, that he couldn't."

Monville writes about her life with Roberts and what has happened since then in her book, "One Light Still Shines." In it, she credits God with helping her get through the terrible moments since then.

Monville told Robach about having to break the news of their father's death -- and crimes -- to her children. Abigail was 7, Bryce was 5 and Carson was 18 months old.

Their children had been so sheltered that they never even saw the news at home, Monville said.

"You know, I wanted to protect them from the evil of this world. And suddenly evil had invaded our home. And there wasn't any way to protect from that," she said.

She added: "You know, we talked a lot about the choice that Charlie made, and how it wasn't a reflection on them. And it wasn't their fault. There wasn't anything they could have done differently that would have stopped them."

Even as she was struggling to come to grips with her husband's death and his crimes, outreach from the Amish community was on its way.

Victims' Community Forgives

Hours after learning about what Charles Roberts had done, a contingent of the grieving Amish came to visit her.

Monville recalled that she was standing in her parents' kitchen, and she could see a group of the Amish walking towards her parents' home.

Her father offered to go outside and talk to them.

"And I couldn't hear the words they were saying, but I could see the exchange that was happening. I could see their arms extending. And the way they laid their hands on my dad's shoulder. I could feel it," she said.

"I could feel the emotion of the moment. You know, it said everything," she said, adding that her father said they had forgiven her husband. "They were concerned about me and concerned about the kids, and wanted us to know that they supported our family."

It didn't end there. When her family was besieged by media en route to bury Charles Roberts, the Amish stepped in again. Even though they don't like to have their pictures taken, members of the community placed themselves directly in front of news cameras to shield her family, Monville said.

"They turned their backs to the cameras so the only pictures that could be taken were of them and not of our family. And it was amazing to me that they would choose to do that for us," she said. "It was amazing. It was one of those moments during the week where my breath was taken away, but not because of the evil. But because of the love."

It wasn't long after her husband's death that she found love again. Dan Monville, 47, an insurance agent, who was a member of local church network, reached out to offer Marie support. Their relationship flourished, and they were married in May 2007.

Even though she was initially resistant to even contemplating thoughts about marriage so soon after the tragedy, she said: "I really felt the Lord speak to me that Dan was the man I was going to marry."

She knew some people would think it was too soon, but she trusted that God was leading her, she said.

"As radical as it sounded to trust the Lord in the potential of marrying someone so soon after, I had come from this place of desperation and saw God walking me through it and working out places of beauty from the ashes of my life," she said.

Marie Monville says she has forgiven Charles Roberts, even though it wasn't easy.

"Charlie had an illness. And it doesn't excuse what he did . But, you know, if I allow bitterness and anger to live inside of me? Those were the very things that pushed him to do what he did. I don't want anything to do with that," she said.

"It's not like I could forgive him once for what he did and never have to think about it again. It's something that I think about all the time," she said. "But I don't have to just forgive Charlie for him. I have to forgive him so that I can be whole, and so that it doesn't eat away inside of me the same way that he allowed anger to eat away inside of him."

The 11 mass deadly school shootings that happened since Columbine

There have been many more shootings, but 11 with four or more victims.

The 11 mass deadly school shootings that happened since Columbine

The images of teenagers running from their school with their hands up – as seen on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School -- has become a hauntingly familiar sight at subsequent school shootings.

And for many, including eventual school shooters, there was something about the Columbine shooting that drew their interest.

John Cohen, a former Department of Homeland Security official who led efforts to combat mass shootings, said that Columbine “absolutely” influenced subsequent shootings.

“As law enforcement has studied the individuals who have committed school shootings and other mass casualty attacks, one of the common characteristics they’ve observed is these individuals tend to study past mass shootings,” said Cohen, who is now an ABC News contributor.

“As it relates specifically to school shootings, we find that columbine seems to be the one incident hat school shooters look at. It seems to resonate with individuals that have the behavioral characteristics consistent with this type of attacker,” he said.

“The people who conduct school shootings tend to be disaffected mentally unwell individuals searching for a sense of social connection and life meaning. They go online, they look at past attacks and in a perverse way, they connect with not only past incidents but also past attackers,” Cohen said, adding that “the story of the Columbine shooters is a story that resonates with a group of kids that are experiencing similar situations.”

While there are hundreds of shootings that have taken place at schools across the U.S. in the past 20 years, leaving broken homes and broken childhoods in their wake, there have been 11 which can be classified as mass shootings. The FBI defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more victims, not including the suspect, are killed.

1. Virginia Tech – April 16, 2007 – 32 victims

The deadliest school shooting in U.S. history took place on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg.

At the time of the shooting, the 32 shooting victims made it the deadliest shooting incident in U.S., though that grisly title would later be overtaken by the shootings at Pulse nightclub in 2016 and later the shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

The shooting took place almost exactly eight years after the Columbine shooting, when a 23-year-old student opened fire at two locations on campus – first in a dorm room and then in an academic building across campus.

In total, he killed 32 victims and injured 23 others before turning the gun on himself.

2. Sandy Hook Elementary School – Dec. 14, 2012 – 26 victims

A half a decade later, another young man devastated a community when, after first killing his mother, he drove to a nearby elementary school and opened fire, killing 20 children and six school administrators before killing himself.

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the sleepy town of Newtown, Connecticut, prompted a national outpouring of grief. Emotions ran high when then-President Barack Obama made a statement about the shooting, pausing at one point to wipe away a tear.

“The majority of those who died today were children -- beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," he said in the White House briefing room. "They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers -- men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams. So our hearts are broken today.”

The outrage over the shooting led to a push for federal changes to gun laws, but the bill did not pass. Instead, in the years since the Sandy Hook shooting, a number of states have changed their local laws.

3. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – Feb. 14, 2018 – 17 victims

Police: Amish School Shooter Said He Molested Kids Years Ago

The milk-truck driver who shot and killed five young girls and himself in a Pennsylvania Amish community this week told his wife minutes before he died that he molested young family members over 20 years ago and that he had been having dreams about molesting again.

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller, however, told reporters Tuesday they have found no evidence, nor any report, of any such abuse by the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV. They also said there was no evidence any of the hostages at the Amish school were sexually abused.

"Neither his wife or any member of his family we have spoken to has any knowledge of any crime being committed," Miller said of Roberts' claims of abuse. "It's unknown what type of molestation, whether it was fondling or inappropriate touching or if it was sexual assault — or if anything occurred."

Roberts was a 32-year-old father of three from nearby Bart Township and was not Amish, but he was deeply scarred by the death of his premature baby, Elise — the firstborn child of he and his wife — nine years ago, Miller added.

Roberts left a number of suicide notes — including one for each of his three children and his wife, Miller said. The note left for his wife referenced something he did 20 years ago but did not go into detail about what that was. He did, however, say he had been having dreams recently, during which he wants to do that again. Roberts' wife didn't know what he was referring to until he called her from inside the schoolhouse during the attack at 10:50 a.m.

Roberts said, "I am not coming home, the police are here," according to Miller. The gunman also told his wife that he molested two young family members years ago and that Monday's shooting spree was some sort of revenge killing. The family members were three or four years old at the time, Miller said, and Roberts would have been about 12 years old 20 years ago.

Notes left behind by Roberts also indicate the gunman was angry at himself and God because of the death of his newborn child, who lived about 20 minutes before dying on Nov. 14, 1997.

"Roberts' wife stated to us that Roberts took the loss of their child Elise very hard," Miller said. "I don't think we're ever going to know with exactness or precision what he was thinking."

Early Monday morning, Roberts ran his milk route as usual, then he and his wife got their three kids ready for school. Roberts' wife went to a morning prayer group, while he dropped his kids off at a bus stop, then drove to the Amish school to carry out his plan, Miller said.

The attack on the one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines in Lancaster County was "well thought-out," "scripted and pre-planned," Miller said, but Roberts panicked when police arrived. Roberts brought with him items that included: KY Jelly, plastic flex-ties, three guns, a stun gun, two knives, a pile of wood and a bag with 600 rounds of ammunition, a change of clothing, toilet paper, bolts, hardware and rolls of clear tape.

Family members who had seen Roberts the week before said there was no indication he was planning such a horrific crime and described him as "very relaxed."

From the suicide notes and telephone calls, it was clear Roberts was "angry at life, he was angry at God," and co-workers said his mood had darkened in recent days, Miller said.

"The note that he left for his wife talks about the good memories together, the tragedy with Elise, it focuses on his life being changed forever . and he alludes to this other reason for this anger but he can't discuss it with her and it happened 20 years ago," he added.

The gunman's wife, Marie Roberts, called her husband "loving, supportive and thoughtful."

"He was an exceptional father," she said in a statement. "He took the kids to soccer practice and games, played ball in the backyard and took our 7-year-old daughter shopping. He never said no when I asked him to change a diaper."

"Our hearts are broken, our lives are shattered, and we grieve for the innocence and lives that were lost today," she continued. "Above all, please pray for the families who lost children and please pray too for our family and children."

Mourning the Dead

Meanwhile, the Amish community mourned the deaths of the children who were killed by Roberts. Police released the names of the dead as follows: Naomi Rose Edersole, 7 Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12 Marian Fisher, 13 Mary Liz Miller, 8 Lina Miller, 7.

Two of the dead children passed away Tuesday morning: One girl at Christiana Hospital in Delaware died about 1 a.m., and a 7-year-old girl at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey died about 4:30 a.m.

"Her parents were with her," hospital spokeswoman Amy Buehler Stranges said of the 7-year-old. "She was taken off life support and she passed away shortly after."

Five other girls were shot four of them are in critical condition.

Spokesmen at Penn State Children's Hospital said the Amish community requested privacy in their time of mourning and prayer for their families.

"This is a tragedy of a magnitude our community is not used to seeing," said spokesman Sean Young.

A 6-year-old girl there is still in critical condition, while a 13-year-old female is in serious condition, Young said. Three girls, ages 8, 10 and 12, were flown to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where they were out of surgery but remained in critical condition, spokeswoman Peggy Flynn said.

"I ask all Pennsylvanians to keep the families and the victims in their prayers and keep this fine community in their prayers, as well," Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Tuesday.

"I think the Amish community would want everybody to pray for them, especially the victims' families," one Amish man who did not want to be identified on camera told FOX News. "I'm sure they would want you to pray for us — that we can put this behind us and move forward."

The Bush administration on Monday called for a school violence summit to be held next week with education and law enforcement officials to discuss possible federal action to help communities prevent violence and deal with its aftermath.

Before he started shooting, Roberts released about 15 boys, a pregnant woman and three women with infants, barred the doors with desks, a fooseball table and wood and secured them with nails, bolts and flexible plastic ties. He then made the girls line up along a blackboard and tied their feet together.

The teacher and another adult ran to a nearby farmhouse, and authorities were called at about 10:30 a.m. Amish schools traditionally do not have telephones. Miller on Tuesday praised the actions of those two individuals, saying they likely prevented further deaths.

The attack bore similarities to a deadly school shooting last week in Bailey, Colo., that left one female student dead. Click here for the latest on the Colorado shooting story.

On Friday, a school principal was shot to death in Cazenovia, Wis. A 15-year-old student, described as upset over a reprimand, was charged with murder and is being held on $750,000 bond. Click here for the latest on that story.

Mother of gunman who killed five Amish girls in 2006 cares for survivor of son's massacre

STRASBURG, Pa. - Once a week, Terri Roberts spends time with a 13-year-old Amish girl named Rosanna who sits in a wheelchair and eats through a tube. Roberts bathes her, sings to her, reads her stories. She can only guess what's going on inside Rosanna's mind because the girl can't talk.

Roberts' son did this to her.

Seven years ago, Charles Carl Roberts IV barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, tied up 10 girls and opened fire, killing five and injuring five others before committing suicide as police closed in.

The Amish responded by offering immediate forgiveness to the killer — even attending his funeral — and embracing his family.

Terri Roberts forgave, too, and now she is sharing her experience with others, saying the world needs more stories about the power of forgiveness and the importance of seeking joy through adversity.

"I realized if I didn't forgive him, I would have the same hole in my heart that he had. And a root of bitterness never brings peace to anyone," Roberts said. "We are called to forgive."

Roberts has delivered the message to scores of audiences, from church groups to colleges, and is writing a memoir. She's even considered traveling to speak in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year. But she is cautious, mindful an appearance there could give offense.

One of her sons is making a documentary — called "Hope" — about her remarkable journey from heartbroken mother to inspirational speaker.

Zachary Roberts originally conceived the film to help his mother. But it's also proving to be cathartic for him.

"It was like a step toward getting this off my shoulders and being able to speak about it," said Roberts, 35, who lives in Sweden. "I have a kid now, and I don't want this to be one of those dark family secrets that nobody talks about. I want to be OK with it, and I want my daughter to be OK with it."

After filming on location in Pennsylvania, Zachary Roberts and the documentary's producers recently released a trailer and have turned to a crowd-funding website to raise money to complete production.

Roberts appears in the trailer and doesn't mince words about the challenge that faced his mother after his 32-year-old brother's rampage: "How does the mother of a mass murderer move forward in life?"

Terri Roberts' path toward healing and reconciliation began, surprisingly enough, that very first afternoon.

Her husband, Chuck, had wiped away so many tears that he'd rubbed his skin raw. The retired police officer hung his head, inconsolable. "I will never face my Amish friends again," he said, over and over.

An Amish neighbor named Henry told him otherwise. "Roberts, we love you. We don't hold anything against you or your son," Terri Roberts recalled Henry saying as he massaged Roberts' slumped shoulders. "We're a forgiving people."

It was an extraordinary gesture, one that gave Terri Roberts her first glimmer of hope. She calls Henry her "angel in black."

That same day, a counselor helped her realize that "we do not need to live in our sorrow." Her son's rampage was one part of his life, a terrible snapshot, the counselor said. Better to focus on all the good years.

"I can't tell you what that did for me. That was just so helpful for me, and I feel now that it's helped many other people," Roberts said.

Charlie Roberts said in suicide notes and a last call with his wife that he was tormented by unsubstantiated memories of having molested a couple of young relatives and by the death of his daughter in 1997, shortly after she was born.

His mother first shared her story nine months after the Oct. 2, 2006, slayings at West Nickel Mines Amish School, when a friend from work asked her to speak to some Japanese exchange students. The message resonated, and Roberts said she felt a calling from God.

Roberts remains close with Charlie Roberts' wife, Marie Monville, who is also breaking her silence with a book, "One Light Still Shines," which shares a similar message of hope amid despair. Like her former mother-in-law, Monville has relied on her Christian faith to carry her through the worst time in her life.

"The message of the book is that it doesn't matter how dark the day is, the love of the Lord continues, and he is capable of writing a redemption story over our lives even in those dark places," said Monville, who has since remarried.

She said God has given her "healing and freedom from the weight of Charlie's choices and from the words, 'the shooter's wife,' that tried to define who I was."

The Amish were celebrated for how they responded to the massacre. Yet forgiveness doesn't always come easily or automatically, even for this Christian sect whose members are known for their plain dress and simple ways.

Rosanna King's father, Christ King, said the Amish are like anyone else, with the same frailties and emotions.

"We hope that we have forgiven, but there actually are times that we struggle with that, and I have to ask myself, 'Have I really forgiven?'" King said.

"We have a lot of work to do to live up to what we are bragged up to be," he continued. "Everyone was talking about this forgiveness thing, and I felt that was putting a lot of weight on our shoulders to live up to that."

The Amish Culture of Forgiveness

The Amish Culture of Forgiveness

That week, the Robertses had a private funeral for their son, but as they went to the gravesite, they saw as many as 40 Amish start coming out from around the side of the graveyard, surrounding them like a crescent.

"Love just emanated from them," Terri says. "I do recall the fathers saying, 'I believe that I have forgiven,' but there are some days when I question that."

Terri finds it especially hard to accept that forgiveness when she thinks of one of the survivors, Rosanna.

"Rosanna's the most injured of the survivors," she explains. "Her injuries were to her head. She is now 15, still tube-fed and in a wheelchair. And she does have seizures, and when it gets to be this time of year, as we get closer to the anniversary date, she seizes more. And it's certainly not the life that this little girl should have lived."

Terri asked if it would be possible for her to help with Rosanna once a week.

"I read to her, I bathe her, dry her hair," says Terri, who herself is battling cancer.

Terri Roberts (right) and her friend Delores Hayford, during a recent StoryCorps visit. StoryCorps hide caption

Terri Roberts (right) and her friend Delores Hayford, during a recent StoryCorps visit.

And, while she can't say it with 100 percent certainty, Terri believes Rosanna knows who she is.

"I just sense that she does know," she says.

"A healing balm"

"I will never forget the devastation caused by my son," says the 65-year-old Terri. "But one of the fathers the other night, he said, 'None of us would have ever chosen this. But the relationships that we have built through it, you can't put a price on that.' "

"And their choice to allow life to move forward was quite a healing balm for us," she says. "And I think it's a message the world needs."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher Morris.

2006 – Gunman kills five students at Amish school

Charles Roberts enters the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where he fatally shoots five female students and wounds five more before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide.

Charles Carl Roberts IV, a 32-year-old milk truck driver from a nearby town, entered the one-room schoolhouse at around 10:30 a.m. armed with an arsenal of weapons, ammunition, tools and other items including toilet paper that indicated he planned for the possibility of a long standoff. He forced the 15 boys and several women with infants inside the school to leave and made the 11 girls present line up against the blackboard. Police were contacted about the hostage situation at approximately 10:30 a.m. When they arrived at the schoolhouse a short time later, Roberts had barricaded the school doors with boards he had brought with him and tied up his hostages. Roberts spoke briefly with his wife by cell phone and said he was upset with God over the death of his baby daughter in 1997. He also told her he had molested two girls 20 years earlier and was having fantasies about molesting children again. At approximately 11 a.m., Roberts spoke with a 911 dispatcher and said if the police didn’t leave he’d start shooting. Seconds after, he shot five of the students. When authorities stormed the schoolhouse, Roberts shot himself in the head.

Roberts, a father of three, had no criminal history or record of mental illness. Additionally, his family knew nothing about his claims that he had molested two young female relatives. The Amish community, known for their religious devotion, as well as wearing traditional clothing and shunning certain modern conveniences, consoled Roberts’ wife in the wake of the tragedy some members even attended his funeral. Ten days after the shootings, the Amish tore down the schoolhouse and eventually built a new one nearby.

&ldquoWhy the Amish Forgave a Killer&rdquo

&ldquoOne year ago, Monday morning, October 2, a beautiful clear day in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, a non-Amish man backed his pick up truck into the school yard of the West Nickel Mines Amish school. Inside the one-room schoolhouse were 28 students, and three adult women&mdashthe teacher and three visitors that day.

The intruder, Charles Roberts, was a milk truck driver well known in the area. This morning, however, he was heavily armed, and ordered everyone in the school to lie on the floor. The teacher and one other adult dashed for the door and escaped for help. Apparently startled that his plans apparently were going awry, Roberts ordered the remaining adults and boys out of the school. He nailed the door shut and pulled the blinds to darken the room, and tied together the legs of the remaining ten girls, who were still lying on the floor at the front of the room. He told them that he was angry at God&mdashhad been for years&mdashand that he could not forgive God and he could not forgive himself.

By this time, police had begun arriving at the school, responding to a phone call the distraught teacher had made after running a half mile to the neighboring farmhouse. Realizing the police had arrived and were asking him, through a bullhorn, to surrender, Roberts himself called 911, telling the responder that he would shoot everyone if the police did not leave. Moments later he opened fire, getting off 13 shots in 8 seconds. The rampage killed five of the girls and severely injured the other five. After firing a shot through a window at the police and shot himself.

Within 30 minutes this event literally became news around the world. Not, we should note here, because male violence against girls was newsworthy&mdashthat theme, in fact, was seemingly lost in the reporting that followed or was assumed to be commonplace. Instead, the story that first flew around the globe was that the last safe the rest of the world had imagined&mdashrural Amish schools&mdashhad just been added to the growing list of school shootings sites.

But very quickly the media story shifted from one of lost innocence to one of bewilderment and even consternation. The victimized Amish community, it seemed to many observers, was reacting in strange ways.

Their grief was intense. But they did not convert their grief and shock into calls for retribution. True, the killer was dead, but the Amish did not engage in the most common form of revenge we see in contemporary society: attacking his character or degrading his memory. While other neighbors said they hoped he was enjoying burning in hell, the Amish said they trusted he had met a merciful God. Nor did they ever imply that his apparent mental illness was evil or a moral failing&mdashagain, as some others did. Instead, they sought to treat him as a fellow human being&mdashtroubled, to be sure, but one whose memory warranted respect and whose survivors needed love and compassion.

Within a few hours of the shooting members of the local Amish community reached out in sympathy to his widow, his parents, his parents-in-law, assuring them that they would not scapegoat them for what happened.

Six days later, when most non-Amish neighbors stayed away from Roberts&rsquo burial, the Amish did not, and ended up being half of the mourners present, and again hugged his family and cried together. They included Amish parents who had just the day before buried their own daughters.

About the same time, the ad hoc Amish committee set up to oversee the money that poured in from around the world for the shooting victims announced that they would be diverting some of the money to a second fund for the Roberts family.

Now this was news. And it was a story that reporters&mdashand the public at large&mdashwas unprepared for. They didn&rsquot know what to make of it. Forgiveness of this sort was so uncommon.

Some people praised Amish forgiveness, and jumped to apply its example to a host of other social and political issues.

Others denounced Amish forgiveness, condemning it as too fast, emotionally unhealthy, and a denial of innate human need to seek revenge.

Why did the Amish forgive?

For the past year two colleagues and I have been on a quest, both academic and personal, to understand the dynamics of what happened in the wake of the Nickel Mines shooting. We came to the story as people who knew something about Amish culture and beliefs we came as parents and a grandparent of young children we came as people who believe forgiveness is a good thing, but a difficult and complex thing.

But there was a lot about this story that we did not know. Take the phrase &ldquoThe Amish forgave.&rdquo What did that mean? What was forgiveness in this case? And why forgive?

It turns out that the Amish have a far from simplistic understanding of forgiveness. True, some things were clear from the start: The decision to forgive came quickly, instinctively. The Amish knew they wanted to forgive, knew it so clearly that they could express it immediately and publicly even if and when they didn&rsquot feel that way. One Amish grandmother laughed when we asked is there had been a meeting to decide if the gunman should be forgiven. No, she and others said, forgiveness was a decided matter&mdashdecided long before October 2 ever raised the occasion for forgiveness.

At the same time, this grandmother and others made clear that forgiving is hard work, emotionally, and that deciding to forgive and expressing that desire with words and actions are only a first step. Many of those close to the tragedy made use of professional counselors and, a year later, continue to work with their grief.

Although the Amish drew on the resources of professionals, they often explained that forgiveness was a long process by citing biblical language: Jesus had said that even small offenses need to be forgiven seventy times seven, they note, suggesting that forgiving takes time and is not a simple once-and-done event.

It&rsquos important here to clarify what the Amish believe forgiveness is and is not.

  • It&rsquos not pretending that nothing happened or that the offense wasn&rsquot so bad.
  • It&rsquos not pardon it&rsquos not saying there should be no consequences for actions. Had Charles Roberts lived, the Amish no doubt would have supported his prosecution and imprisonment for the sake of everyone&rsquos safety.
  • Instead, forgiveness is about giving up: giving up your right to revenge. And giving up feelings of resentment, bitterness and hatred, replacing them with compassion toward the offender. And treating the offender as a fellow human being.

This is hard work, even if the decision to forgive is settled. When a grieving grandfather, asked by reporters less than 48 hours after two of his granddaughters had been slain if he had forgiven the killer, responded, &ldquoIn my heart, yes,&rdquo his words conveyed a commitment to move toward forgiveness, offered with the faith that loving feelings would eventually replace distraught and angry ones.

Speaking the folk wisdom of experience, Amish people told us, &ldquoThe Acid of hate destroys the contain that holds it.&rdquo And &ldquoIt&rsquos not good to hold grudges. Why not let go, give it up and not let the person [who wronged you] have power over you.&rdquo

Forgiving may be about self-denial, but it is not self-loathing. In fact, forgiving, the Amish affirm, is good for you, not just for the person forgiven.

If the Amish explanation of forgiveness is more complicated than many of the popular presentations of Amish forgiveness that suggested they stoically stuffed their feelings in a box, it still begs the question of why? Why and how could the Amish forgive in the way that they did, in the way that they understand forgiveness?

  1. The first thing they cite when explaining their understanding of forgiveness, perhaps not surprisingly, is theological: Jesus tells us to forgive and God expects us to forgive they say.

They immediately point to Jesus parables on forgiveness and especially to the Lord&rsquos Prayer, with its key line: Forgive us as we forgive others.
This phrase rings loudly in Amish ears because they pray the Lord&rsquos Prayer frequently. It&rsquos not uncommon in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania settlement for Amish people to prayer the Lord&rsquos Prayer eight times a day, and ten times on Sundays. The Amish there discourage composing original prayers and use the Lord&rsquos Prayer routinely and liturgically.

As well, they point out that the line forgive us as we forgive others is the only part of the Lord&rsquos Prayer that Jesus underscores. Immediately following the Prayer, Jesus says: &ldquoFor if you forgive others their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you but if you do not forgive others, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses,&rdquo adding emphasis t what the Amish see as a key theological truth.

Indeed, the Amish believe that God&rsquos forgiveness of them is dependant in some way on their forgiving others. Not that they are trying to manipulate God into forgiving them, but they see their relationship with God and their relations with other people as so closely bound together that they cannot be separated.
Their ability to forgive is dependant on God&rsquos forgiving them, but God&rsquos forgiving them is also dependant on their forgiving others. Forgiveness becomes a sort of religious obligation.

  1. But if forgiveness is a duty, it does not stand alone as a cold command to be born in isolation. Amish forgiveness is supported by hundreds of years of Amish history and culture, hundreds of years&rsquo worth of story telling and cultivating habits that celebrate forgiveness and make the terribly difficult responses at Nickel Mines nonetheless seem normal.

And to the degree that forgiveness involves giving up, forgiveness is central to Amish life every day, even when there is no criminal offense to forgive. In many ways, the essence of Amish life is giving up. Giving up self to the group, to God. From how one dresses to the kind of work on does, Amish life is shaped by riuals and routines of self-surrender.

So if forgiveness is about giving up one&rsquos right to revenge, or giving up grudges, Amish culture has primed its members to give up in a host of daily practices. That doesn&rsquot make forgiving easy for the Amish. But it does make it something that is part of the rest of life, and not an unnatural act&mdashas it seemed to appear to outsiders whose culture resists giving up and celebrates getting one&rsquos due.

This cultural context also means that for the Amish, forgiveness is not an individual matter. It was not the job of the wounded girls or shell-shocked boys to forgive. (Their parents say they hope someday those children will feel compassion for Charles Roberts, but they have not press the children on this point.) Amish forgiveness is collective. There was not just one victim, but many many people can forgive. And so the Amish do not have to puzzle over whether it is right for them to forgive on behalf of someone else&mdashan ethical dilemma that has confounded ethicists in individualistically-oriented societies. The Amish forgive on their own behalf because they see the emotional pain as broadly shared, and not the sole burden of those the rest of the world would call &ldquoprimary victims.&rdquo

Although the Amish never anticipated the horror of Nickel Mines, they were prepared to respond long before they needed to.

What does this mean for the rest of us?

This is a question we wrestled with as we worked with this issue, and one many people have been asking us. If the Amish response to Nickel Mines was rooted so deeply in the specifics of who they are, culturally, does it mean anything for those of us who are not Amish?
Further, even for the Amish, forgiveness in this case took a particular shape because of the specific nature of this offense: the killer was known to the community, and he was now dead. Some Amish folks said that it would be harder to forgive Charles Roberts if he were still alive and they had to face him in person. Others said it would have been more difficult to forgive him if he had molested the girls before he killed them.

It doesn&rsquot diminish the terror of the Nickel Mines schoolhouse to note that the situation of forgiveness here is different from situations in which an offense&mdasheven a relatively less severe one&mdashis repeated again and again. Such on-going violations pose different challenges to forgiveness.

For these and other reasons, I&rsquom cautious about applying any lessons of Nickel Mines too broadly as a one-size fits all lesson.

But more to the point, I&rsquom cautious because of what we do learn from Amish forgiveness. Amish forgiveness is not an easily transferable technique because it grows out of their collective life and culture.

And that is where the rest of us need to start, if we want to explore the possibilities of forgiveness. Not with Amish culture, but with our own, and the mini-cultures all of us create as we go about life. Theologian Miroslav Volf has said something to the effect that if you want to be a forgiving person, surround yourself with forgiving people.

Treating Nickel Mines as an inspirational or motivational story won&rsquot change anything, because forgiveness is too difficult and too complicated to just begin happening because we heard a motivational story.

But it is the case that the stories we tell each day all year, the images we surround ourselves with, the heroes we celebrate, and the communities of friendship and worship to which we give ourselves will do a great deal to shape how we forgive, and the kind of world that makes forgiving so necessary.
Such shaping and reshaping is hard work. It&rsquos hard to distinguish between forgiveness and pardon to know when reconciliation is possible and when it needs more time. Our culture celebrates violence on many levels. Even more, it insists that the most innate human need is to get one&rsquos due, that your most fundamental right is retribution. In such a setting, giving and forgiving are deeply countercultural.

These are things for which we need discerning communities&mdashthe Amish and I recommend Christian community&mdashlong before we think we need them.

Last October, one person who began reflecting on forgiveness and community and Lord&rsquos Prayer, was John McCutchen, a nationally-known folk singing who has performed frequently here at the Goshen College music center, and who offered a song as his contribution to the language and images we might take with us into this difficult work. We&rsquoll end with this song, not because it is the final word on forgiveness, but as one musical offering on the way to taking up the painful, always complicated, but life-giving work of forgiveness.

There have been more than 200 school shootings since 1999. These were the deadliest

Up until April 20, 1999, there had only been six other instances in American history in which five people or more had been killed during an attack on a school.

But in the 20 years since two students murdered 15 people at Columbine High School in Colorado, there have been nine more school shootings that resulted in the deaths of five students or school employees.

Read more about each of the the shootings in the list below.

The list below does not include the 200-plus shootings at schools since April 20, 1999 in which less than five people were killed.


Oct. 2, 2006
A Pennsylvania man stormed a one-room Amish schoolhouse and held a number of female students hostage. As police attempted to negotiate with the gunman, they heard a rapid series of shots. Five students were killed, and the gunman also died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

April 16, 2007
In the deadliest school shooting in American history, a 23-year-old senior from South Korea killed 32 students in two separate buildings on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. He later died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The attack raised a number of questions about student safety on college campus and inspired emergency alert system upgrades at dozens of colleges.

Feb. 14, 2008
A graduate student at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, armed with a shotgun and three pistols, stormed into a large auditorium-style classroom, killing five students and injuring 17. He later died at the scene of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

April 2, 2012
A 43-year-old former student at the Korean Christian College in Oakland, California, entered a nursing classroom, ordered students to line up against a wall, and shot them. Seven students were killed. The gunman was arrested, and eventually pleaded no contest in the case and was sentenced to life in prison. The gunman died in prison of self-inflicted wounds earlier this year.


Dec. 14, 2012
The deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school, 20 children between six and seven years old were killed at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school. Six adult staff members were also shot and killed at the school. Before the shooting at the school, the gunman had also murdered his mother at her home. The gunman later shot and killed himself at the school.


Oct. 24, 2014
After inviting a handful of friends to have lunch with, a student pulled out a handgun and killed four people before fatally shooting himself at a high school outside of Seattle. The student's father was later arrested for illegally purchasing the firearm used in the attack.


Oct. 1, 2015
A 26-year-old student enrolled at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, shot and killed an assistant professor and eight students in a single classroom. Police later engaged in a shootout with the gunmen, and after being injured, he shot himself. Eight other people were injured.


Feb. 14, 2018
A 19-year-old former student who had been expelled the year before returned to the school with a semi-automatic weapon and killed 14 students and three staff members. The gunman then exited the Florida high school along with other students and was later apprehended by police a few blocks away from the school. He's since been charged with 17 counts of murder.

May 18, 2018
A student at a Texas high school shot and killed eight students and two staff members with multiple guns. Thirteen others were injured. He was also later found to be possessing explosives and molotov cocktails. The student was later arrested and now faces charges of 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Gunman Planned Sex Assault on Amish Girls, Police Say

When Charles Carl Roberts IV burst into a one-room Amish schoolhouse on Monday, he carried with him tools for a sexual assault: KY lubricant jelly, plastic flex-cuffs and heavy bolts that could have been used to restrain the children, police said Tuesday.

During a cellphone conversation in the last moments of his life, Roberts told his wife that he had molested two relatives 20 years ago, when he was 12 -- and was tormented by dreams that he would do it again. In a suicide note, Roberts also told his wife that he was in despair over the death of their first child, Elise, who was born prematurely and lived only 20 minutes. The couple later had three children.

“I don’t know how you put up with me all these years. I am not worthy of you, you are the perfect wife you deserve so much better,” he wrote. “I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself, hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness.”

Seven-year-old Lina Miller was taken off life support Tuesday morning, making her the fifth child to die in the schoolhouse attack. Five other girls remained in area hospitals, four of them in critical condition. There is no evidence that Roberts assaulted the girls during the 45-minute siege, which ended in a barrage of gunfire, Pennsylvania State Police Col. Jeffrey Miller said at a news conference.

In the community of Nickel Mines, where the attack occurred, the black-clad figures of Amish mourners converged on farmhouses from all directions -- in horse-drawn buggies, on foot, on scooters and in vans driven by non-Amish.

Two teenage girls in white gauze bonnets walked down the road, their eyes pink and swollen from crying. But overall, as the families flocked toward the homes of the dead girls, their faces were composed.

Chris Stoltzfus, wearing the beard and flat-brimmed yellow straw hat of Amish men, said there was explosive grief inside the community, “but you don’t see it much out here.” He said the Amish were struggling to accept and forgive Roberts’ crime.

Forgiveness, he said, is not an option but a spiritual imperative. For example, when an Amish person is killed by a motor vehicle -- which happens regularly, since the Amish travel highways on scooters and in buggies -- it is not unusual for a family to invite the vehicle’s driver to the funeral.

“The sooner you resign yourself that it’s the Lord’s will, the sooner you get over it,” said Stoltzfus, a construction worker. This time, he said, was different. “There’s definitely a battle going on.”

The impulse to forgive is typical, said Donald Kraybill, a sociologist at Elizabethtown College who has studied the Anabaptists. The Amish believe “that all life is under the provenance of God, including evil acts like this,” he said. “And they accept that there is no sense of arguing with God. They have an enormous capacity to accept suffering.”

The latest revelations about Roberts offered a motive for the attack. At 10 a.m. Monday, after walking two of his children to their school bus, he burst into the Amish schoolhouse brandishing a 9-millimeter semiautomatic weapon and ordered the adult women and 15 boys to leave. One girl escaped with her brother, Miller said, leaving the 10 girls -- ages 6 to 13 -- behind.

Roberts then nailed planks of wood to the windows and bound the girls’ legs together using wires and plastic cuffs. With police surrounding the building, Roberts warned at 10:48 a.m. that he would start shooting if they did not retreat within 10 seconds. While troopers were attempting to reach Roberts on his cellphone, he opened fire, shooting into the backs of the girls’ heads. He then turned the gun on himself.

Investigators are searching for the two victims Roberts said he molested when he was a boy. But Miller said they may not even recall the episodes, since they were reportedly between 3 and 5 at the time. Neither Roberts’ wife nor any member of his family, Miller said, “has any kind of knowledge” of the molestation. Roberts had no criminal record and no known history of mental illness.

He was the son of a police officer, was home-schooled, and in 1996 married Marie Welk, a descendant of Georgetown’s settlers. In a statement released Monday, his wife said he was “loving, supportive, thoughtful -- all the things you’d want, and more.”

The Robertses were a church-going family. On Monday morning, when her husband was buying the last few supplies for his rampage, Marie Roberts was leading a mother’s prayer group at a nearby Presbyterian church. After the attack, neighbors recalled Charlie Roberts doing ordinary things: taking his kids trick-or-treating, or walking them to the bus stop.

His nearest neighbors were a large Amish family. When Stephen Sipos, another neighbor, went over to inform a woman there that Roberts was the shooter, he thought she was going to fall to the floor. “It was like her whole body went limp,” Sipos said. Aaron Fisher, 73, an Amish man who was shearing lengths of dark cotton fabric in a general store a few doors down from Roberts’ home, would not comment except to say this: “He was a good neighbor.”

As the realization of what had happened began to sink in Tuesday, the Coatesville Savings Bank established two savings accounts -- one for the Nickel Mines school, which may have to be rebuilt, and one for the Robertses’ children. Kristine Hileman, a minister at the church where Marie Roberts ran her prayer group, said the community would close ranks around the family.

“She may go some other place. Maybe that would be best for her. But while she is here we will love her,” she said.

Meanwhile, friends and relatives Tuesday had come face to face with a new Roberts: the meticulous planner of violence. In his pickup truck, police found a list -- in small, neat writing along the left-hand margin of a notebook -- that gave a picture of what he was planning to do to the children. It read: “Tape. I-bolts. Tools. Nails. Wrenches. Hose. KY. Bullets. Guns. Binoculars. Earplugs. Batteries. Black light. Candle. Wood. Tape.”

TIMELINE: Deadliest school shootings in recent history

May 18, 2018:
Students at Santa Fe High School in Texas began to evacuate after fire alarms were activated at the school around 7:45 a.m. after students heard gunfire. Ten people were killed and 14 were injured.

February 14, 2018:
A former student of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, opened fire on students and staff after activating the fire alarm. Seventeen people were killed and 17 were injured.

November 14, 2017:
A gunman rammed a truck into a gate at the Rancho Tehama Elementary School in Reserve, California, before firing at classrooms. Five people were killed and 18 were injured.

October 1, 2015:
A shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, left 10 people dead and seven wounded. Shooter Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, exchanged gunfire with police then killed himself.

May 23, 2014:
A community college student killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks in the area near the University of California-Santa Barbara campus. Authorities said he apparently shot himself to death after a gun battle with deputies.

December 14, 2012:
In Newtown, Connecticut, an armed 20-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 26 people, including 20 first-graders and six adult school staff members. He then killed himself.

April 2, 2012:
Seven people were killed and three were wounded when a 43-year-old former student opened fire at Oikos University in Oakland, California. One Goh was charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder, but psychiatric evaluations concluded he suffered from long-term paranoid schizophrenia and was unfit to stand trial.

April 16, 2007:
A senior at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, opened fire in a residence hall and classrooms on campus, killing 32 people and injuring dozens before committing suicide.

October 2, 2006:
A gunman took hostages and shot eight out of 10 girls (aged 6-13), killing five before committing suicide in a Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania, schoolhouse. The West Nickel Mines School was torn down, and a new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope School, was built at another location.

March 21, 2005:
A 16-year-old shot and killed seven people at Red Lake Senior High School in Red Lake, Minnesota, and wounded five others. The dead included an unarmed security guard at the entrance of the school, then a teacher and five students. The gunman committed suicide.

April 20, 1999:
Two students murdered 12 of their peers and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. They injured 21 additional people, and three more were injured while attempting to escape the school. After exchanging fire with responding police officers, the pair of killers subsequently committed suicide.