Community, Family Heal 10 Years After Tragic Amish School Shooting

BART TOWNSHIP, Pa. (CBS) — In an empty pasture off of White Oak Road there are five trees, each 10 is years old.

“They planted those trees kind-of along the property line of where the school yard would have been,” said former Pennsylvania State Police Captain Jack W. Laufer.

On October 2nd, 2006 a young Amish school teacher had a grave decision to make. She could either stay and try and protect the children in her classroom from a gunman who had just entered, or run to get help.

Emma Mae Zook decided to run. In doing so she reached a nearby barn that was equipped with an outdoor phone and the owner helped her call 9-1-1.

Captain Laufer was at home when he received word.

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“When you are told that you have this kind of situation unfolding in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Bart Township, Lancaster County…it was definitely not something I was prepared to hear,” he said.

By that time most of the boys had been ordered out of the building by the intruder, a local non-Amish delivery truck driver named Charles Roberts IV, before he barricaded the doors and windows, locking the young girls inside. Shots were fired inside shortly after police made vocal contact with Roberts. When authorities made entry, the suspect was found face-down with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had shot ten girls, killing five and seriously injuring five more.

“He was a great husband, a great father and certainly not someone I that was capable of doing what he had done,” said Marie Monville, Roberts’ wife at the time.

Police say that items found with Roberts indicated that he had planned to torture and sexually abuse the girls. Old Order Amish typically do not use phones other than for rare business occasions, so Roberts knew that there would not be access to one inside of the school house. Investigators believe that the planned abuse was prevented thanks to Zook making the choice to risk being shot as she ran for help.

Earlier this month, a community gathering was held for the anniversary of the incident inside of the West Nickel Mines Schoolhouse. Families who lost children attended and out of gratitude, State Troopers were invited to share in reflection.

Charlotte Knauer is “English”, the term used by the Amish to describe non-members of the church. She lives in the home beside the schoolhouse and says that the thousands of tourists that flooded the massacre site added to the anguish.

“How do you direct people in the wrong direction nicely and tell them, ‘Hey, this is inappropriate,” she said.

The Amish are proud, private people who are extremely uncomfortable around cameras. According to Steven Nolt, a Senior Scholar of Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College, this belief comes from their focus on the collective. Photos and video counteract that notion and symbolize vanity for those who are baptized in the church.

In the aftermath of the Nickel Mines shooting, Nolt worked close with the families.

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“Parts of the process that many of us think signaled the end the grief process for the Amish actually signaled the beginning,” he said.

For the Amish, Forgiveness comes first. Nolt adds that one girl, who remains severely injured, receives constant care not only from her own family, “but also on a regular basis from some non-Amish members of the community including the mother of the intruder.”

Roberts is buried in an unmarked grave about a quarter mile from where he carried out the deadly attack. Beside him is his daughter’s headstone. She died shortly after birth, unable to survive at just 29 weeks. Police believe his action was prompted by her death. Inside of a diary left by Roberts, investigators say that Roberts confessed to molesting two female family members and that he had felt that the death of his daughter was a punishment from God. He sought to avenge that with the killings.

“It was something that was kept way down inside that no one could see,” said Monville of her daughters death. She had never been aware of her husband’s self-professed sexual assault.

Monville has since remarried and now has six children, one of which she and her husband recently adopted from South Africa. Not only did the Amish attend his funeral but they also raised money for the three children he left behind.

“Forgiveness is the gift. They came to offer a gift that day and it is a remarkable one that I never would have anticipated,” Monville said.

In 2013 she released a book, ‘One Light Still Shines’, detailing her experience in overcoming the sorrow that followed the schoolhouse shooting, and how the immediate compassion displayed by the Amish has allowed her a chance at life beyond the action of her then-husband.

While the tragedy highlighted the graceful resilience of the Amish, it also reinforced their resistance to the new methods of the world around them. In the 10 years since the shooting, authorities recommended measures for increased school safety, but were turned down.

“They said that they were not going to let the actions of one man change the way they live.”

The West Nickel Mines School house was torn down after the investigation concluded. Today, children walk past where it once sat, on their way to a new one that was quickly built nearby.

Many of them too young to have experienced the chaos that erupted in their peaceful pasture, yet still they have been changed in ways that ‘English’ eyes can not see.

More from Alexandria Hoff

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