A Plain and Profound Farewell
Friday, October 6, 2006
BART TOWNSHIP, Pa. Oct. 5 -- The train of wagons passed through town three times on the same grim errand. And still they were not done burying the girls.
The funeral processions for four of the five Amish girls killed in their schoolhouse left their homes in Bart Township on Thursday and moved down the same narrow streets to the small fenced-in graveyard on a little rise amid the fields.
The black-clad men and women, girls and boys, in the wagons did not stop and barely turned to look as they rolled past the flag at half-staff outside the post office and the crude sign taped to the sawhorse in a driveway: "Our thoughts and prayers to all the families."
The wagons, following the hand-crafted wooden coffins, kept going past the home of the man who caused the bloodshed -- Charles C. Roberts IV, or "Charlie" to his friends -- who bound 10 girls and shot them with bullets and buckshot Monday before shooting himself.
Few people but reporters and camera crews turned out to witness the somber parades. The morning broke cold, and a brisk wind ruffled the cornstalks and blew leaves off the trees. But town resident Jacquie Hess felt she had to watch.
"It's hard to accept what has happened," she said, standing outside the homes of Roberts and other relatives. "I feel sympathy for them. I feel sorry for them that it happened this way, that they lost children, also."
Hess is the aunt of Roberts's wife, Marie, and she is one thread in the close weave between killer and victims. Her family, including Charles Roberts, drove the trucks that carried the milk from the dairy farm of the Fisher family, who had three daughters at the school the day Roberts shot it up. One of the daughters escaped, another was wounded, and the third -- 13-year-old Marian -- was killed. She was buried Thursday.
In the classroom Monday, Marian was among those students who asked that Roberts kill her first and spare the younger girls, according to Rita Rhoads, a Mennonite nurse and midwife who delivered two of the girls buried Thursday. She cited an account from one of the survivors.
Marian's sister Barbie Fisher, 12, who was hospitalized, told relatives she recognized Roberts as the milk truck driver when he entered the school. According to Rhoads, she said Roberts talked to the students about himself and his anger at God -- an anger police said was partly fueled by the loss of his firstborn infant daughter nine years ago.
"He asked them to pray for him," said Rhoads, who has emerged as a leading spokeswoman for the Amish community.
Barbie said that the girls asked Roberts, 32, why he could not pray himself, but instead of praying, Roberts tied up the girls, who never screamed despite knowing their fate, Rhoads said.
"They just stood there with courage," she said.