On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV killed five Amish girls and himself in an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Roberts was not Amish, although he lived near the Amish community in Lancaster. As part of his job, the 32-year-old milk truck driver would come to Amish farms to pick up milk. A father of three, Roberts tied up the girls in the schoolhouse, allegedly with the intention of sexually molesting them. Instead, he killed them and himself when the presence of the police led him to change his original plan. Eleven out of the 26 students at school that day were girls, students aged 6 to 13. Three girls died at the school, and two died later at the hospital. Fatally shot in the head were Marian Fisher, age 13; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, age 12; Mary Liz Miller, age 8; her sister Lena Miller, age 7; and Naomi Rose Ebersole, age 7. Six other girls were in critical condition, some with gunshots in their heads, although none of them died.
The Lancaster County incident was the third fatal school shooting in a week within the United States. The two previous shootings had taken place in high schools: one in Bailey, Colorado, by a 53-year-old man, and one in Cazenovia, Wisconsin, by a student. Many felt Roberts’ shooting mimicked the incident in Bailey, as that shooter also was older and not a student, took the students hostage, and kept only the girls in the classroom, allowing the boys to leave. Also, these incidents are the only two school shootings where a sexual intention was involved. However, Roberts bought his supplies before the Colorado shooting took place, and police felt he was only thinking of himself and his internal struggle, so it is unclear if he was really copying the earlier shooting.
Many considered the shooting to be the outcome of an ongoing struggle within Roberts relating to events in his past. During the attack on the school, he talked to his wife Marie over the phone and told her he had sexually abused children related to him 20 years earlier, when he was 12, and stated that he had been thinking about molesting children again. The children involved in the earlier crimes were between the ages of 3 and 5.
According to one of the suicide notes he left for his family, Roberts also seemed intent on carrying out revenge toward God for letting his baby, Elise, die. Roberts and his wife lost their daughter 20 minutes after she was born early in 1997, nine years before the shooting. In the suicide notes, Roberts described how he never really got over Elise’s death. He wrote about how frequently he would be sharing happy moments with his family, but then would think about how Elise was not there to share the joy with them and would become angry. Roberts stated that he hated both God and himself, and felt empty.
In the weeks leading up the shooting, his wife did not think Roberts was acting in an unusual manner. His coworkers, however, indicated that Roberts was acting differently the week before the shooting, and that his mood had changed. Despite this, neither the coworkers nor his wife suspected that Roberts had any violent plans. He had no previous criminal record, and he was described by family and neighbors as a nice man. Everyone who knew him thought he was a peaceful man, but they did not know he had secret sexual fantasies related to children. Marie said he was a very good husband and father to their three children, and she had never known about the molestation of his relatives until Roberts told her during the attack.
The Amish community also never expected any incidence of school violence. Because of the peaceful lifestyle of the Amish and the rural nature of the area they live in, they were not prepared for an attack of this nature. They had no security to prevent it, and no one would have even envisioned such a possibility.
The Lancaster County event was not a spur-of-the-moment crime; Roberts thoroughly planned the attack before he carried it out. He had a checklist of the supplies he brought into the school, all of which were checked off. Also, investigators say he bought the items six days before he went to the school.
Although many speculated the attack was a revenge killing, especially because of Roberts’ suicide notes, police investigators believed it was a sex crime ending in suicide. Roberts had been watching the school after his shifts at work, and he likely picked an Amish school as a target because he knew it would not have good security. Rather than targeting the Amish community, Roberts likely focused on the presence of young girls–and the Amish school was an easy and nearby mark in that regard. Police believe he began shooting because he panicked when police surrounded the building.
Roberts brought three firearms with him that day–a rifle, a shotgun, and a semi-automatic pistol. He also had knives, an abundance of ammunition, a stun gun, and a bag of tools, suggesting that he was planning to hold the girls for a long time and that he may have intended to sexually assault the girls. Among the items he brought were KY Jelly lubricant and restraints, including a large board with eyebolts spaced apart, seemingly to bind girls to it.
Before the attack, Roberts went to work until about 3 a.m. He took his children to their bus stop, and then went to the Amish school. He closed himself in the school, blocking the doors with pieces of wood he brought with him. No detail was ignored. When he had all of the students in the school together in one classroom, Roberts let all the boys leave and bound the girls’ feet. He also let a pregnant teacher leave, along with three other adult women who had infants with them. According to a sociologist, Amish parents are usually the teachers in the schools.
Roberts went into the school at about 10:00 a.m. Two adults who were told to leave the school called 911 at 10:36 a.m. from a nearby farmhouse. Police got to the site at 10:45 a.m. and surrounded the school. At some point during his time at the school, Roberts spoke to his wife on the phone; Marie had found the suicide notes when she came home after attending a morning prayer group. Roberts then called the police, who had surrounded the building, and told them that if they did not leave he would shoot people within 10 seconds. True to his word, he started shooting soon thereafter.
Roberts’ wife was shocked by what he did, claiming he was a wonderful husband and father and stating that the incident was unlike him. In a statement, she told the public to pray for the families who lost their children in the attack as well as to pray for her own family.
After the attack, the Amish community reacted much differently than mainstream America has responded to other school shootings. Instead of implementing new laws and stricter preventive measures, the Amish community has been practicing forgiveness.
Eleven days after Roberts attacked the school, the Amish community tore the building down. The Amish community decided to start fresh with the school, just as they had with their lives.
- Lieberman, J., & Sachs, B. (2008). School shootings. New York: Kensington.
- Turvey, B., & Petherick, W. (2008). Forensic victimology. Maryland Heights, MO: Academic Press.