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11 Amish Girls Shot in School

A rural Pennsylvania man singles out females, killing four and leaving seven in critical condition. He kills himself as police near.

October 03, 2006|Ellen Barry and Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writers

NICKEL MINES, Pa. — Calling on its faith for guidance, the Amish community here coupled sorrow with forgiveness Monday after a milk-truck driver armed with a small arsenal burst into a one-room schoolhouse, killing four girls and critically wounding seven others. He killed himself as police stormed the building.

The attack was methodical, gruesome and baffling. Charles Carl Roberts IV -- a 32-year-old father of three with no criminal record -- entered the schoolhouse with a gun in his hand about 10 a.m., State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller said. Roberts, who was not Amish and had no known connection to the school, ordered the 15 male students, the teacher and several aides with infants to leave. Then he set about preparing for a siege.

According to Miller, Roberts lined up 10 female students, ages 6 to 13, and a young teacher's aide against the chalkboard. He wrapped wire and plastic ties around their ankles, binding their feet together -- or to one another. He barricaded the door with boards and piled-up desks.

Outside, the teacher and the boys raced for help, cutting through fields to the nearest farmhouse. The Amish eschew most modern technology, so none of them had a cellphone. Many homes here -- like the schoolhouse -- do not have phones, although Amish farmers often have a line running to the barn or corn crib.

At 10:36 a.m., the teacher reached a phone and dialed 911.

Inside the schoolhouse, Roberts waited. He had a shotgun, a semiautomatic pistol and a rifle, 600 rounds of ammunition, explosive powder, a stun gun, two knives, a change of clothes, and a bucket with pliers, a hacksaw and wire. At some point, Roberts called his wife on his cellphone. He spoke of a grudge from long ago, said he was getting even.

He kept the girls silent as he talked. On the other end of the line, his wife heard nothing but his voice.

State police pulled up to the pale-yellow building at 10:45 a.m., nine minutes after the call for help. They tried to contact the gunman using the public-address system on their squad cars. Roberts did not respond to them.

Instead, he called 911 and demanded they leave. If they did not back off within 10 seconds, he said, he'd start shooting.

Seconds later, gunfire erupted. Roberts shot the girls in the head -- one after another, in quick order -- with his 9-millimeter automatic, stopping once to reload. He opened fire briefly on the troopers as they approached, but did not hit them. Then he turned the gun on himself; he fell face-down on the floor, dead.

"It was all over in a matter of seconds," Miller said.

One girl died instantly. A second passed away moments later, in a trooper's arms. Two others were pronounced dead at the hospital. Seven were in critical condition Monday night. Miller said "it would be a miracle" if they all recovered.

"He executed those children," Miller said.

Authorities said Roberts apparently was looking to take revenge on young girls, and found the school a convenient target -- "a location of opportunity," as Miller put it.

Employed by Land O'Lakes Inc. dairy co-op and assigned to deliver milk for a subsidiary called Northwest Food Products, Roberts was known around the community as outgoing and personable. Co-workers told authorities that Roberts had seemed tense of late, not his usual quick-to-joke self, but had been more relaxed in the last few days.

When he finished his milk route about 3 a.m. Monday, Roberts parked the truck on a hill outside the school, as was his custom. He slept a few hours at his nearby home, but was up by 8:45 a.m. to take his children to the bus stop.

His wife, Marie, noticed nothing wrong; the day was unremarkable, routine. "His family had no inkling," Miller said.

Marie Roberts released a statement Monday night to the media saying: "The man who did this today is not the Charlie that I've been married to for almost 10 years. My husband is loving, supportive, thoughtful, all the things you'd always want and more.... Our hearts are broken, our lives are shattered, and we grieve for the innocence and lives that were lost today."

Before driving to the school in a borrowed pickup, Roberts left notes for each of his young children. His suicide letters, like his final call to his wife, alluded to resentment over a past grievance. Miller speculated that it could have something to do with a child that Roberts and his wife lost years ago. Mostly, Miller said, the notes expressed rage: "He was angry with life. Angry with God."

But Roberts' brutality evoked very little anger among the community Monday. Men in broad-brimmed hats and suspenders and women in bonnets and long dark dresses expressed grief and shock, but in hushed, muted tones. "It's a sad day," Jacob King, a 31-year-old stonemason said. He could think of nothing else to add, just repeated that one word, "sad."

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