By Raymond McCaffrey, Paul Duggan and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 3, 2006 12:30 PM
BART TOWNSHIP, Pa., Oct. 3 -- Five young Amish girls are dead, and five more are seriously injured, after being lined up in their one-room school Monday and shot "execution style" by a heavily armed milk truck driver who then took his own life, police said.
Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, was armed with three guns, two knives and 600 rounds of ammunition when he burst into the schoolhouse, forced the girls to line up against a blackboard and shot them at close range in the back of the head, police said.
Pennsylvania State Police commissioner Col. Jeffrey B. Miller, who described the crime scene as "horrendous," said Roberts apparently was motivated by rage over a long-ago incident unconnected to the school or the Amish community.
Roberts lived in the area, but was not Amish. He was armed with a semiautomatic handgun, a rifle, a shotgun and a stun gun, police said, and had no known criminal history.
"Apparently there was some sort of an issue in his past that he, for some reason, wanted to exact revenge against female victims," Miller said. "It's obvious to us that this was a premeditated hostage scenario where, I believe, based on what the investigators have so far, he intended not to walk out of there alive. But he also intended to kill innocent victims."
Two of the girls were pronounced dead at the schoolhouse, and a third died later in the day at a nearby hospital. Two more girls died of their injuries overnight, hospital officials said. Miller identified the slain girls as Lena Miller, 7, and Mary Liz Miller, 8; Naomi Ebersol, 7; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12; and Marian Fisher, 13.
Two of the injured girls are eight years old, Miller said; the others are 6, 11 and 13 years old. The only other girl in the schoolhouse when Roberts entered, a 9-year-old, managed to escape along with her brother, Miller said.
Roberts left notes for his wife and three children "along the lines of suicide notes," Miller said. Police had been called to the schoolhouse and were trying to make contact with Roberts when the shootings occurred.
Georgetown Amish School reportedly had 26 students in attendance yesterday, 15 boys and 11 girls, authorities said. The attack shocked the quiet people of this Lancaster County farming community, whose religion and traditions require them to remain separate from the outside world and shun the trappings of modern life, including electricity and motor vehicles. The shootings in Bart were the third at a U.S. school in five days.
On Wednesday, a 53-year-old drifter took six girls hostage in Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., sexually assaulted them and fatally shot a 16-year-old girl before killing himself. Two days later, a 15-year-old former student allegedly shot and killed a principal in Cazenovia, Wis.
Elsewhere, three teenagers were charged in Green Bay, Wis., Thursday in an alleged plot to bomb and burn a high school and shoot students as they emerged. And on Monday, officials in Las Vegas said they locked down four schools after a student was spotted entering a high school carrying a gun.
Bart Township, about 60 miles west of Philadelphia, has about 3,000 people and a landscape of grain silos, dairy farms and tobacco fields. In the hours after the shootings, TV satellite trucks lined country roads mostly traveled by the horse-drawn buggies of the Amish.
According to Miller, Roberts's wife, Marie Roberts, told police that her husband worked until 3 a.m. Monday delivering unprocessed milk from Amish farms to a dairy and then went home. He took his children to a bus stop about 8:45 a.m. before driving to the Amish school on White Oak Road.
Roberts apparently was prepared for a long siege, Miller said. In addition to the weapons and rounds of ammunition, he had two cans of smokeless gunpowder, rolls of tape, tools and a change of clothes.
Marie Roberts later found several suicide notes and tried to call her husband, Miller said. About 11 a.m., he called her from the schoolhouse and "told her he wasn't coming home," Miller said. Roberts told her that "he couldn't go on anymore" and that "he was getting revenge for something that happened 20 years ago," Miller said.
Miller also said that "there may have been a loss of a child some time in his life."
From the notes to his family and telephone calls, it was clear Roberts was "angry at life, he was angry at God," Miller said. Co-workers at the dairy told officers that Roberts, once given to joking, had seemed to grow despondent not long ago, Miller said.
But in recent days, Miller said, another change occurred. Miller said co-workers indicated that Roberts had appeared more at ease, which might suggest that he had come to a decision about the path he would take.
He said he did not believe that Roberts was influenced by the recent school shootings, but settled on his course independently.
"The man who did this today is not the Charlie that I've been married to for almost 10 years," said Marie Roberts in a statement released to the news media.
Quoting a teacher who escaped, Miller said that when Roberts entered the school, he showed students the handgun and spoke to them in a "rambling discourse," Miller said.
In a news conference, Miller said Roberts arrived at the school in the morning in a borrowed pickup truck. He said Roberts separated the boys, ages 6 to 13, from the girls at the school.
Roberts then told the girls to line up against a blackboard and bound their feet with wire ties and plastic handcuffs, Miller said, his voice choked with emotion. Roberts allowed the boys to leave, along with a pregnant woman and three women with infants.
As the women, who apparently are teacher's aides, were leaving, a teacher was able to flee, and she called police from a nearby farm at 10:36 a.m., Miller said.
As officers arrived at the school and a hostage negotiator tried to contact Roberts, he called a police dispatcher and warned that he would start shooting in 10 seconds if police did not withdraw, Miller said. Seconds later, shots rang out, and state troopers carrying ballistic shields rushed the building. Miller said Roberts had barred the doors with lumber that he had brought for that purpose and with desks from the classroom.
Roberts spoke to his wife by cellphone moments before he opened fire, Miller said. In addition to shooting at the girls, he fired out a window at approaching state troopers but did not hit them. Miller said troopers did not fire any shots. One trooper was injured slightly by broken glass while entering the classroom through a window.
Police found Roberts face down on the floor, with the weapons beside him, Miller said, adding that "one of the girls died in the arms of one of my troopers."
Television news footage showed ambulances and police vehicles on the road outside the schoolhouse, which is surrounded by a white fence. A blue pickup with a white cap over the bed was backed up to the front of the schoolhouse. At one point, firefighters and Amish men walked abreast through nearby fields, looking for students who might have fled and were not accounted for.
Three of the injured, ages 6, 7 and 13, went to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. The 7-year-old was taken off life support overnight and died at 4:30 a.m., with her parents at her side, hospital spokeswoman Amy Buehler Stranges said.
The 6-year-old remains in critical condition, a second hospital spokeswoman said. The 13-year-old's condition was upgraded to serious, and hospital officials said she was able to communicate non-verbally -- with some eye communication -- with members of her family.
A 9-year-old girl who was flown by helicopter to Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del. died at 1 a.m. Tuesday, hospital spokesman Spiros Mantzavinos said.
Three girls -- whose ages were given by police as 8, 8 and 11 years old -- were flown to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where they were out of surgery by Tuesday morning but remained in critical condition, spokeswoman Peggy Flynn said.
Matt Wayne of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center said the hospital has offered the Amish transportation, among other services, to help them travel back and forth from the hospital.
"They have not taken us up on any requests for transportation," Wayne said, however.
The first Amish settlers arrived in Lancaster County in the early 18th century, according to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Welcome Center's Web site. The group is named for Jacob Amman, a 17th-century Swiss bishop whose followers in the Anabaptist movement were persecuted for their belief that infant baptism was invalid.
Donald Kraybill, a leading national scholar of Amish communities, said he recalled one or two cases of arson at Amish schoolhouses but no other violence. "I think this is really an aberration," said Kraybill, a senior fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County.
Kraybill, who has written extensively about the Old Order Amish and Mennonite communities, said Lancaster County has about 150 one-room schoolhouses.
"The ethos of the classroom accents cooperative activity, obedience, respect, diligence, kindness and interest in the natural world," Kraybill wrote. "Little attention is given to independent thinking and critical analysis -- the esteemed values of public education. Despite the emphasis on order, playful pranks and giggles are commonplace."
On Monday, on a farm not far from the Georgetown school, Amish residents gathered in front of a building, the bearded men in black pants, suspenders and broad-brimmed straw hats and the women in long dresses and bonnets.
Irene Moyer, who is Amish, said she first heard about the "mass casualty" incident by word of mouth and then was contacted by the parents of one of the children at the school. "One of the Amish neighbors knocked at the door and said: 'Can you take care of my children? There's a gunman at the school.' "
A family spokesman, Dwight LeFever, read a statement from Roberts's wife, saying: "Our hearts are broken, our lives are shattered, and we grieve for the innocence and lives that were lost today. Above all, please, pray for the families who lost children and, please, pray, too, for our family and children."
The families of the victims did not make any public comment on the tragedy. But hospital officials in Hershey said the grandfather of one of the girls taken there asked them to appeal for prayers from "people of all faiths."
Staff writers Daniel de Vise, Tamara Jones, Kari Lydersen, Dan Morse, Clarence Williams and William Branigin, researcher Meg Smith and the Associated Press contributed to this report.