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4 Amish Girls Slain in Attack Are Buried

A reclusive community struggles to mourn amid a media onslaught in Pennsylvania.

October 06, 2006|Justin Fenton and Julie Scharper | Baltimore Sun

BART TOWNSHIP, Pa. — In the chill before daylight Thursday, two men with long beards stood before freshly dug graves in a small cemetery where four little girls were soon to be buried.

The girls -- two sisters and two neighbors -- were among five killed in the attack on their one-room Amish schoolhouse Monday. Four other girls are in serious or critical condition, and another has been taken off life support.

Down twisting country roads later in the morning came dozens of horse-drawn black buggies, clip-clopping to the Bart Amish Cemetery in three successive funeral processions.

A few children gazed curiously from their buggy windows at the reporters and photographers who thronged the streets. Their parents, wearing bonnets or broad-brimmed black hats, for the most part stared straight ahead with solemn faces.

But a few motioned toward the small, tan house with the green jeep parked out front, the home of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the man who shot the girls and then took his own life in the West Nickel Mines Amish School.

Since Roberts, a milk truck driver with three young children of his own, shattered the peaceful world of the Amish community, its people have struggled to mourn while dealing with the intrusion of national media into their reclusive lives.

The attention has been troubling, they say. "We're glad it's over, that's for sure," said Sarah Beiler, 26, as she cut black cloth with long shears at an Amish store near the cemetery.

A relative of 12-year-old victim Anna Mae Stoltzfus was in the shop, buying the fabric to make clothes for Anna Mae's funeral today.

The bodies of Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7, Marian Fisher, 13, and the Miller sisters, Mary Liz, 8, and Lena, 7, were buried after funeral ceremonies, one after the other, were held in their parents' homes.

According to Amish tradition, the girls were clothed in white dresses and capes and laid in handcrafted wooden coffins.

From a cornfield on a hill, a line of more than 30 buggies could be seen rolling past a white fence into the cemetery for the first of the burials, that of Naomi Rose, about 11:45 a.m.

They were escorted by several police cruisers guarded by uniformed and undercover police officers.

A state police helicopter and plane circled overhead.

The voices of children playing in the yard of another nearby Amish school could be heard during the burial. Cattle grazed across the paved road from the cemetery, and flocks of geese flew in formation above.

Thursday threatened to be much more tumultuous than it turned out. A church group that pickets military funerals had announced plans to demonstrate here, prompting a local group of bikers to arrive on the scene with the intention of shielding the families from any protest.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., accepted a deal from the host of a syndicated radio show for one hour of air time in exchange for promising not to demonstrate at the funerals.

The church group blames military deaths in Iraq, disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and other tragedies on divine retribution for what they consider to be America's permissive morals.

Still, the bikers milled about the Bart Volunteer Fire Department in case they were needed. Burly men wearing leather vests and bandannas chatted with dark-suited Amish elders, just one of the week's incongruous images.

"These people are suffering," said Larry Copeland, a member of the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club. "We show up for support."

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