02 October 2011

Nickel Mines Amish School Shooting

Today – 2 October 2011 – marks the 5th anniversary of the Nickel Mines Amish School Shooting. That morning I was in my office at SolancoNews.com, an online newspaper covering the Southern End of Lancaster County. I - along with Lynn Ney from the Ledger who I had actually gone to college with at Lock Haven - were the first media on scene that day.

It was a beautiful fall morning. The air was crisp. The temperature was perfect. The sun was shining and warm. And then shortley after 10 am I heard over the police scanner the call for medical teams to the Nickel Mines School (which being local I knew to be Amish) for an "emotional disturbance". The next call included the phrase "shots fired". I was out the door, picked up Lynn and got on scene as the emergency crews were still arriving. The public confusion that immediately followed and seeing the shock on some of the faces of the troopers was ... memorable.

Charles Carl Roberts IV said goodbye to his own young family as his son went to school and his wife went to a nearby Bible Study group and then methodically made his way down the street to the one room Amish school house. The schoolhouse - so serene until that morning - was alive with activity.

Roberts drove his truck down the short stone path and entered the schoolhouse. He let go a pregnant women, three women there with infants and the 15 male students. The teacher escaped at this time. Roberts then, said State Police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey Miller in an interview that day, told the girls to line up in front of the blackboard and tied the feet together of the remaining girls, aged six to 12 years old. He barricaded himself in the building with lumber he had brought with him, barring the police from easy access.

Five girls died that morning: Marian Fisher, 13; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12' Mary Liz Miller, 8; Lina Miller, 7; and Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7. The Miller girls are sisters. Roberts then took his own life before the State Police broke through his barricade.

Quietly the community pulled together - both English and Amish. Funds were set up for the Amish families affectd. A fund was set up for the Roberts children who had lost their breadwinner. The local hospital waived fees. Community members held various fundraisers for the families. A new school was built and the old one razed.

Throughout the event, there were 69 companies involved in some facet. Fire police were provided by 51 stations in eight counties. Bart's first-run was covered by 18 different stations in Lancaster and Chester Counties. In addition there were people from several State Police barracks, constables, sherrifs, the South Central Regional Terrorism Task Force, Lancaster County Emergency Management and the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

There was much talk - especially in the non-local English media - about forgiveness. Many came to nderstand forgiveness that morning. That morning ironically coincided with Yom Kippur - a Day of Atonement. A solomn Jewish holiday, it is a day of atonement and repentance.

We know that morning he called home and left his wife Amy a message saying he was sorry.  He had said "he was getting revenge for something that happened 20 years ago," according to an article posted on SolancoNews.com that afternoon. He claimed to have molested two family members 20 years ago. State Police question both persons and could not find any proof or even an allocation of any such behaviour. He also said he was angry with God for taking Elise, thier daughter they lost nine years before shortly after her birth.

Roberts was a 32 year commercial truck driver for North West Foods.

What has never been answered ... is why. What made Roberts - the honest good son of a local poilceman - turn into a murder? What happened all those years ago and - prehaps more importantly - what happened recently to awaken those issues?