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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK
School attack shatters Amish idyll
By Jane Little
BBC News, Nickel Mine

Darkness has fallen on this tiny village which can never have seen a night like this one.

Amish men
The Amish shun modern society in favour of a simple way of life

The occasional horse trots down the main street pulling a small grey buggy into the full glare of the lights from media satellite trucks.

The local Amish community, private, tight-knit, closeted from the outside world, has had its peace shattered in a few terrible moments by a local gunman with a 20-year-old grudge.

"It's just devastating," says Naomi Fisher who, along with her husband, runs the Nickel Mine Option House. She wears a modest dark dress and white bonnet.

Her husband sports a long grey beard, plain dark trousers and braces, the signature garb of a community that shuns modern society in favour of a simple pure way of life, based on a literal reading of the bible.

It is a cruel irony that the Amish are pacifist. The men wear beards, but no moustaches because the latter, they believe, belong to a military tradition they want no part of.

But violence ruptured this community early on Monday morning in a particularly shocking way.

Close range

Local man Charles Roberts, who is not Amish, had finished his shift driving a milk tanker and dropped his children off at the bus stop.

Police interview elderly in Lancaster County
Police investigations are expected to continue
He then drove his pick-up truck up to the door of the one-roomed schoolhouse where up to 30 children were just beginning their day's lessons.

He carried a semi-automatic pistol, rifle and shotgun and 600 rounds of ammunition.

Once inside, he let 15 boys leave, along with four adults, including a pregnant woman, before he barricaded the door with planks of wood.

He then bound the feet of the remaining girls, aged between six and 13, lined them up in front of the blackboard and shot them at close range before killing himself.


Four of the girls are dead, several are critically wounded and the authorities fear more lives will be lost.

State police commissioner Jeffrey Miller said: "It would take a miracle for us not to lose more lives today."

Schoolhouse where attack took place
Helicopters and satellite trucks have arrived among the Amish

He added that the conditions of two of the victims were "very dire".

There are only hints as to why this 32-year-old man with three children of his own would carry out such a crime.

In a phone conversation with his wife shortly before the killing, he talked of revenge for something that happened 20 years ago.

Investigators said they were also looking into the possibility that it could be linked to the death of his daughter shortly after she was born in 1997.

At this point, there is no indication that the girls were targeted because they were Amish.


In a statement, Roberts' wife Marie said: "Our hearts are broken, our lives are shattered."

She called for prayers for the victims' families. Later, she described her husband as loving, supportive and thoughtful, adding: "He was an exceptional father."

Neighbours describe an ordinary Christian family. Firewood and children's toys lay scattered on the porch outside the Roberts' modest one-storey home.

After night fell, police continued to work inside the schoolhouse, which stands illuminated on a gently sloping hill.

Its cream clapboard facade looks out onto cornfields. Behind it stands a farmhouse where local Amish families gathered to share their grief.

The Amish practise simplicity in life and also in death. Funerals usually take place within three days. Females are buried in white inside plain wooden coffins.

There are no flowers or sung hymns in accordance with their belief that all are equal in the eyes of God.

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