By Tamara Jones and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 4, 2006 1:00 PM
BART TOWNSHIP, Pa., Oct. 4 -- Haunted by an ugly secret he claimed to have kept since childhood and recurring dreams of molesting young girls, Charles C. Roberts IV clearly "planned to dig in for the long siege" and torment his young victims in an Amish schoolhouse before executing them and killing himself, investigators said Tuesday.
Five suicide notes the 32-year-old gunman left behind also describe his anguish over the loss of a premature baby nine years ago, police said, and a checklist found in his milk truck offered a sordid blueprint for the mayhem that left five girls dead and five more fighting for life after Roberts stormed into their classroom Monday morning.
Neighbors watched tearfully Tuesday as horse-drawn buggies filled with Amish mourners began to converge on the houses where simple funerals were expected to be held in the coming days for the girls killed in a barrage of bullets that left the county coroner too shaken to keep counting the wounds.
Roberts called his wife, Marie, after barricading himself inside the school with the terrified children, and said that he had molested two young, female relatives when he was 12 and that he had been dreaming about doing it again, Pennsylvania State Police Col. Jeffrey Miller said at a news conference.
Miller said that police were still interviewing members of Roberts's extended family and that they had not been able to determine what happened 20 years ago or to find the alleged victims, who would have been preschoolers at the time.
There is "no evidence" that the girls held hostage Monday were sexually assaulted, Miller said, but the boxes of evidence police carted away from the Nickel Mines school included sexual lubricant and restraint devices.
"It is very possible he intended to victimize these children in many ways prior to executing them," said Miller, who added that Roberts "planned to dig in for the long siege."
Miller identified the victims as Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12; Marian Fisher, 13; Mary Liz Miller, 8; and her sister Lina Miller, 7.
Three of the other victims, including a younger Stoltzfus sister, remained in critical condition. A fourth victim -- at 13, the oldest of the group -- was reported in serious condition but conscious and able to communicate by blinking her eyes, a spokeswoman for Penn State Hershey Medical Center said Tuesday. A 12-year-old girl who was being treated at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for arm and leg injuries was upgraded from critical condition to serious condition, a spokeswoman there said Wednesday morning.
Although the Amish restrict the use of modern technology, hospital spokesmen said no religious restrictions interfered with treatment of the children.
Police and coroner accounts of the children's wounds differed dramatically. Miller said Roberts shot his victims in the head at close range, with 17 or 18 shots fired in all, including the one he used to take his own life as police stormed into the school through the windows. But Janice Ballenger, deputy coroner in Lancaster County, Pa., told The Washington Post in an interview that she counted at least two dozen bullet wounds in one child alone before asking a colleague to continue for her.
Inside the school, Ballenger said, "there was not one desk, not one chair, in the whole schoolroom that was not splattered with either blood or glass. There were bullet holes everywhere, everywhere."
A state police spokeswoman said Tuesday night that she could not immediately explain the discrepancy.
Discussing the tragedy at the local post office with another neighbor, their voices falling silent when an elderly Amish woman walked in, Marie Pelliccio described her conversation with a young survivor. He was among the 15 boys Roberts ordered out of the school after lining up the girls in white bonnets and long pinafores against the chalkboard and binding their feet with plastic ties.
Pelliccio said the teenage boy is a neighbor who works as a hired hand at her horse farm. When she stopped by to check on the family Tuesday afternoon, Pelliccio said, the boy told her the gunman had burst into the school and yelled at everyone to line up, then pointed to the boys: "You, you and you and you, get out of here!"
When the teacher fled as well, the boy told his neighbor, the gunman ordered another boy to chase after her, warning, "You go get her, or I'll start shooting!"
Pelliccio's eyes welled as she recalled the boy's quiet account of the horror: "I saw him tying my sister up," he told her.
The 8-year-old girl was shot in the jaw and shoulder, and was one of two children still in critical condition at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.
Several of the families whose children were shot were on Roberts's milk run, Pelliccio said. "He knew them."
Two local relief groups, the Mennonite Disaster Service and the Mennonite Central Committee are accepting financial donations to assist the community impacted by the shootings. Contributions to the Amish School Recovery Fund will help affected families with medical care, transportation, supportive care and other needs, the websites describing the effort said. Tax-deductible donations can be made by calling the Mennonite Central Committee at (717) 859-1151, or the Mennonite Disaster Service at (717) 859-2210. To donate online, go to mds.mennonite.net or mcc.org .
Police found Roberts's truck where he customarily parked it after his shift ended at 3 a.m.: in a lot across from the intersection the Amish children crossed each day on their way to school.
"We believe this had nothing to do with the Amish," Miller said. "The school was a target of opportunity. It was close by his home. He felt comfortable."
After finishing his milk run, police said, Roberts went home and helped his two older children get ready for school, dropping them off at their bus stop about 8:45 a.m.
Marie Roberts told police she had "absolutely no" clue that anything was troubling her husband when she left at 9 a.m. for the prayer group she leads at a nearby church. The first emergency call about a hostage situation at the school came about 10:36 a.m., from the teacher who had escaped.
Charles Roberts had carried boxes of tools, hardware and lumber with him, Miller said, and he barricaded the front door with a piece of wood, bolted it and piled desks in front of it. A side door was barricaded with a foosball table, a 2-by-4 piece of wood and plastic ties.
At 10:50 a.m., Miller told reporters, Roberts called his wife from a cellphone to say, "I am not coming home. Police are here." He said Roberts then claimed to have molested two family members 20 years ago, when the girls were "3 or 4."
Roberts told his wife where the suicide notes were in their home, one for her and each of their three small children. She began reading them, then called her mother and 911, Miller said.
Miller said Roberts didn't answer when police negotiators attempted to contact him.
His letters describe how he was filled with "hatred for God and hatred for" himself. They refer to an unrelenting grief over the loss of his firstborn child, a daughter named Elise, who lived for just 20 minutes before dying nine years ago.
"He said he had been having dreams about doing what he did 20 years ago and wants to do it again," Miller said. The dreams of molesting girls had been tormenting Roberts for two or three years, according to the suicide notes.
In addition to another suicide note found in his truck, police discovered a checklist of 16 items that "matches evidence" seized at the crime scene, Miller said. Among the items Roberts had listed: bullets, gun, binoculars, candle, earplugs, wrenches, nails, eye bolts and KY Jelly. Two tubes of the sexual lubricant were recovered at the school, Miller added, along with items that made up "a restraint system or kit."
Roberts had planned the attack meticulously, Miller said, and was "extremely organized." He began purchasing items on his checklist at a local Amish-run hardware store six days earlier, then spent a "normal, relaxed weekend with his family, playing with his kids."
The supplies he took into the school included a change of clothes, toilet paper and a bucket, additional indicators that he possibly planned to hold his victims hostage for "a number of hours" but then panicked and became "disorganized" when police arrived, Miller said.
Fred S. Berlin, a Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist and expert on sexual disorders, said it would be a mistake to accept Roberts's statement about molesting children years ago as an explanation for what happened Monday. At most, Berlin said, the molestation, if it occurred, is just one piece of a complicated psychiatric puzzle.
"People can develop a major depression and, in the midst of that, begin to feel very guilty and troubled about perceived bad acts in a way that had not been a problem for them in the absence of depression," Berlin said. "I'm speculating here, but it's possible he became depressed and then began to be preoccupied and ruminative and guilt-ridden about these events that occurred so many years ago."
If Roberts did molest two young relatives 20 years ago, when he was 12, it would not necessarily mean he was bound to repeat the behavior as an adult, Berlin said.
Although many adult pedophiles begin their misconduct as young people, "there's good evidence that a majority of adolescent sexual offenders -- if indeed he was that -- do not go on to be adult offenders," Berlin said. "People assume otherwise, but there's some pretty compelling data suggesting that there are lots of kids who do things of a sexual nature during childhood that they ought not do, and they don't do it again."
If Roberts was suffering from depression and became fixated on his long-ago sexual misconduct, fearing that he would repeat the behavior, that could explain suicide, Berlin said.
"That still leaves a tremendous gap in our understanding of how he got from being troubled and guilty about doing that years ago to, in the end, murdering a number of innocent children," Berlin said. "I mean, there's a tremendous leap there that we would need to transcend in order to have a better understanding of why he did what he did."
Staff writers Raymond McCaffrey and Michael E. Ruane in Bart Township and Paul Duggan and Debbi Wilgoren in Washington, along with staff researcher Meg Smith in Washington, contributed to this report.