Police Share Lessons From Amish Shooting
Thursday, August 23, 2007; 9:52 AM
NICKEL MINES, Pa. -- From the moment a gunman began shooting 10 girls in an Amish schoolhouse last year, 2 1/2 agonizing minutes ticked by before state police were able to force their way into the barricaded building, according to newly revealed details about the siege.
The killings last year and the Virginia Tech massacre demonstrate that police dealing with barricaded gunmen need better training and equipment, such as battering rams, said state police Sgt. Douglas Burig, who was in command at the West Nickel Mines Amish School standoff.
Schoolhouse gunman Charles C. Roberts IV acted so suddenly _ shooting his 10 victims in about eight seconds and killing five _ that even quick entry into the building might not have prevented the tragedy, said Burig, who carried two of the victims out of the school.
"It just highlights the need for equipment like this (to be) available for the first responders," Burig said. "Ultimately it would not have made a difference in this incident, but perhaps it will in a future incident."
Pennsylvania state troopers who were at the schoolhouse have said little publicly about the Oct. 2 shootings. But in talks to police agencies across the country, Burig and other state police officials have shared what they learned in hopes of helping other officers.
In an interview earlier this month with KTLO Radio in Mountain Home, Ark., where he was attending a conference, Burig said police tactical units have the tools to handle a barricaded hostage taker. But sometimes it falls to the first officers at the scene to handle the scenario.
Roberts, a 32-year-old father of three who worked as a milk truck driver, apparently planned to sexually assault the children. He lined up the 10 girls before the blackboard and tied their feet.
After insisting that police back off, he systematically shot them at close range.
"When he shot the girls, he shot them a total of 13 times and he did that in about eight seconds," Burig said in a portion of the radio interview that wasn't broadcast. "These doors were heavily barricaded from the inside with 2-by-4s, with flex ties, with furniture. It took the troopers about 2 1/2 minutes to fight through the barricades."
Police used shields, rifle butts and batons to beat through the doors and windows. Roberts shot himself fatally in the head as the first troopers entered.
"Those troopers assaulted the school without any thought of their own safety," Burig told KTLO. "They were shot at but they continued to move toward the school, they dove through windows and ripped off doors while being shot at and they saved the lives of five of the 10 girls that were inside there.
"It's something I'll never personally forget, and their bravery's directly responsible for why five of those girls are alive today."