A stunned Amish community will today bury four of the five girls killed in this week's school house shootings, drawing on every ounce of their religious commitment to non-violence to try to forgive the 32-year-old truck driver who ripped apart their families on his way to a carefully planned suicide.
Services for the Miller sisters, eight-year-old Mary Liz and seven-year-old Lena, as well as Naomi Rose Ebersole, seven, and Marian Fisher, 13, will take place at the family homes today. Each is expected to last about two hours, followed by a mourning procession in horse-drawn buggies to the local cemetery for a short graveside ceremony.
The fifth dead girl, 12-year-old Anna Mae Stoltzfus, is expected to be buried tomorrow.
Hundreds of people are expected attend the ceremonies, just as hundreds have spent the past few days visiting the houses of the bereaved and paying their respects to the dead girls, laid out in white dresses according to Amish custom.
Among them will be Emma May Zook, the teacher who ran to a nearby farm to raise the alarm when Roberts entered the school.
"He stood very close to me to talk and didn't look in my face to talk," she told a local newspaper. Ms Zook initially thought he was saying something about a metal object in the road, but when Roberts reappeared, he was holding a gun.
In stark contrast to many mass murders in the United States, when victims' families express only anger towards the killer or killers, the bereaved Amish have also reached out to the family of the murderer, Charles Roberts, who was not Amish but lived near by and knew many community members personally.
Enos Miller, the grandfather of the two Miller sisters, was with both of the girls when they died. Asked by a local television station whether he had forgiven the gunman, he replied: "In my heart, yes through God's help." Five more girls aged six to 13 are being treated for gunshot wounds. Three are said to be in critical condition.
Roberts walked into the West Nickel Mines Amish school armed with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol on Monday morning. He allowed all 15 boys to leave, along with a pregnant woman and three adults with infants. He bound the 10 remaining girls with wire and plastic restraints and stood them at the blackboard. He called his wife, and then the police before starting to shoot. As state police burst into the building to stop him, he turned the weapon on himself.
Yesterday, a deputy county coroner described how she had seen every window in the school room broken, blood on every desk, and the body of a girl slumped beneath the blackboard. A sign, poignantly, read: "Visitors Brighten People's Days." "It was horrible, I don't know how else to explain it," the deputy coroner, Amanda Shelley, told reporters.
Police said Roberts had planned the attack meticulous over the course of several days. He had made lists of supplies and checked them off one by one. He came to the school equipped with extra clothes, a torch, a candle, toilet paper, wooden planks, nails, bolts and tools, and also two tubes of K-Y lubricant, which police suspect he might have wanted to sexually assault his victims. He did not, in the end, do so.
His stash of weapons included the 9mm pistol, a shotgun, a rifle, two knives, a stun gun and 600 rounds of ammunition.
Further evidence of his planning was a long suicide note he wrote to his wife, in which he mourned the loss of their first daughter in childbirth and talked about being haunted by thoughts of sexually abusing young girls as he claimed to have done 20 years ago.
Yesterday, investigators spoke to the two women whom he was believed to be referring to in the note, who would have been four or five at the time. They said there was no such abuse.
"They were absolutely sure they had no contact with Roberts," state police Trooper Linette Quinn said.
Roberts and his wife went on to have three more children who lived.
Access to Nickel Mines during the funerals will be limited to mourners and residents. Sam Stoltzfus, 63, an Amish woodworker, said the victims' families will be sustained by their faith. "A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter."Reuse content