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Gunman Planned Sex Assault on Amish Girls, Police Say

A picture emerges of a man who was called a `good neighbor' but harbored dark secrets. A fifth student dies as a town copes with grief.

October 04, 2006|Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writer

BART TOWNSHIP, Pa. — 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.

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