School killer driven by demons of his past
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NICKEL MINES, Pa. -- The milk truck driver who killed five girls and wounded five others at an Amish school left suicide notes saying he was angry with God and himself, mainly because of the death of a newborn daughter nine years ago.
Charles Carl Roberts IV also told his wife, and reiterated in the suicide notes, that he had molested two young family members 20 years ago and was having dreams about doing something similar again.
State police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller said, however, that investigators had been unable to find any records or family members to confirm that molestations had occurred.Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
Members of the Amish community come together yesterday to share their sorrow in the village of Nickel Mines not far from the scene of the shootings.
Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
The face of the Amish in the village of Nickel Mines not far from the scene of Monday's shootings.
Click photo for larger image.
Police also said yesterday that items Mr. Roberts brought into the school indicated he may have intended to sexually assault the victims.
"It's very possible that he intended to victimize these children in many ways," Col. Miller said.
Police were at a loss to understand why Mr. Roberts, 32, still grieving over the death of a child and worried about hurting others, went out and shot 10 girls.
At a news conference yesterday in rural Lancaster County, Col. Miller provided many more details about Monday's carnage.
A heavily armed Mr. Roberts kept 10 girls inside the West Nickel Mines School after letting a pregnant woman, other women with infants, and 15 boys go free. A 9-year-old girl also got out, perhaps by sneaking away with her brother.
A teacher, identified by a Lancaster newspaper as Emma Mae Zook, 20, said she escaped after Mr. Roberts left the school momentarily to get something from the borrowed pickup he had driven there.
Col. Miller said the victims were not targeted because they were Amish but because they were female and because Mr. Roberts, who was not Amish, had easy access to their schoolhouse. He was a familiar presence in the area because he made his milk runs there.
Mr. Roberts, of Bart, Lancaster County, shot and killed himself as state police stormed into the school, where he had barricaded doors with boards and desks, fired a shotgun at advancing troopers, and shot all the girls.
Some of the girls were shot with a 9 mm pistol; some were shot with a 12-gauge shotgun, said Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Gary Kirchner. Four of the girls who died were shot in the head and one was shot in the back, he said.
Mr. Roberts fired a shot into his forehead, Dr. Kirchner said.
Col. Miller identified the five dead girls as Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, Marian Fisher, 13, and sisters Mary Liz Miller, 8, and Lena Miller, 7.
Three of them died at the school. His fourth victim died at 1 a.m. yesterday at Christiana Hospital in Delaware, and the fifth died 3 1/2 hours later at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey.
"Her parents were with her," Children's Hospital spokeswoman Amy Buehler Stranges said. "She was taken off life support and she passed away shortly after."
State police would not identify the injured girls, four of whom remained in critical condition. The least seriously injured girl was shot in the back and shoulder; most of the rest had been shot in the back of the head.
Col. Miller gave this account of Mr. Roberts' movements Monday:
He arrived home about 3 a.m. after picking up milk from area farms in his tanker truck. At 8:45 a.m., he hugged two of his children goodbye at their school bus stop as his wife, Marie, left the house for a prayer group meeting.
At 9:14 a.m. and 9:16 a.m., he made separate purchases at a hardware store of flex cables and other items he later would use to bind and hold his victims.
When Mrs. Roberts returned home, her husband was not there, so she tried to call him on her cell phone, which he was carrying. She could not reach him, but about 10:50 a.m. he called her. He would not tell her where he was but said he was not coming home.
He then told her he had molested two young family members 20 years ago and told her where to find suicide notes he had left for her and their children. The notes dwelled on Elise Victoria, who died the day she was born in November 1997. Elise was their first child; they since had three others, the oldest now 6.
"He was troubled by the loss of Elise. It was painful for him, not seeing her grow up. He was angry at God for taking Elise. He said it changed his life forever," Col. Miller said.
Mrs. Roberts told police that her husband had never given any prior indication that he was upset or wanted to hurt anyone. Alarmed by the telephone conversation, Mrs. Roberts called her mother and then dialed 911.
Col. Miller said police had been unable to confirm that Mr. Roberts had actually molested anyone two decades before, but he said officers still were in the process of interviewing those relatives. He said it was possible that because they were just 3 to 5 years old, they did not realize what had happened.
Police said Mr. Roberts made three purchases of gear for his killing mission during a six-day period.
"What we know paints a picture of a man who planned this with precision," Col. Miller said. Police found receipts showing he bought cable zip ties Sept. 26 and then bought hardware, including eyebolts, at a store in nearby Christiana yesterday morning.
In addition to the pistol and shotgun, Mr. Roberts carried a rifle, a stun gun, 600 rounds of ammunition, boards to barricade the doors, a box containing nails, tubes, clamps, and personal lubricating jelly, a change of clothing and toilet paper. Police found a board with 10 eyebolts screwed into it.
Col. Miller speculated that he intended to use the eyebolts to tether the girls; he had already secured their legs with the flex ties.
He wasn't sure whether the eyebolts suggested Mr. Roberts was specifically seeking 10 victims, but it could explain why the 11th girl was able to escape. He said none of the girls had been molested, but that may have been because police interrupted what could have turned into "a long siege.''
The commissioner praised the teacher, Ms. Zook, for running to a phone at a nearby farm after she got out of the school.
She told the Lancaster New Era newspaper that Mr. Roberts arrived shortly before 10 a.m., carrying what she said looked like "piece of iron." She soon realized it was a handgun.
Then, Ms. Zook told the New Era, Mr. Roberts left momentarily.
"I saw he was looking the other way," she said. "I saw this was my chance to run, so I ran for help."
Col. Miller said the troopers, by storming the school as soon as the shots were fired, may have prevented Mr. Roberts from killing all the girls.
Between the time Mr. Roberts walked his children to their bus stop and then gathered his guns and went to the Amish school, his wife was meeting with other mothers at Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church in nearby Quarryville to pray for their children, who attend school in Bart.
Mrs. Roberts is a dedicated member of a chapter of the national group Moms in Touch, said the Rev. Kristine Hileman, co-pastor of the church.
"She has faith, and I think God will give her the strength to get through this," Ms. Hileman said.
Gov. Ed Rendell also attended the state police news conference, expressing his sympathies and saying that stronger gun laws could not have prevented the shootings. Mr. Roberts had no criminal record and had not been treated for psychological problems, two factors that would have kept him from legally purchasing the 9 mm handgun he used.Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
State Police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey Miller, right, holds a copy of a list of items that gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV wanted to bring to the Amish school. Gov. Ed Rendell, seen in the background, also spoke at yesterday's press conference.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published October 4, 2006 12:00 am