Thursday, October 05, 2006

Amish Prepare to Bury Shooting Victims

Horse-drawn buggies clip-clopped past roadblocks Thursday morning as Amish families gathered to bury four of the five young girls gunned down inside their tiny rural schoolhouse.

All roads leading into the village of Nickel Mines, where a milk truck driver took 10 girls hostage and opened fire, were blocked off for the funerals.

The Amish families had asked for privacy as they pray at three homes before burying Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Marian Fisher, 13; and sisters Mary Liz Miller, 8, and Lena Miller, 7. The funeral for a fifth girl, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, was scheduled for Friday.

Five of their friends caught in the schoolhouse attack continued to fight their injuries, at least four of them still hospitalized.

Country coroner G. Gary Kirchner said he had been contacted by a doctor at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey who said doctors expected to take one victim off life support so she could be brought home. Dr. D. Holmes Morton, who runs a clinic that serves Amish children, said Thursday that the reports that a 6-year-old had been taken off life-support and taken home to die were accurate "as far as I know."

"I just think at this point mostly these families want to be left alone in their grief and we ought to respect that," Morton said.

National mourning of similar tragedies, such as the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, has been enabled in part by media coverage - something the Amish generally shun.

In Lancaster County, there have been memorial services for the Amish school shooting victims at nearby churches, but the traditional funerals for the girls were private.

About 300 to 500 people are expected at each, with services held in the homes, said funeral director Philip W. Furman.

Amish custom calls for simple wooden caskets, narrow at the head and feet and wider in the middle. An Amish girl is typically laid to rest in a white dress, a cape, and a white prayer-covering on her head, Furman said. The cemetery sits on the crest of a hill in Georgetown.

The girls' families, Amish neighbors and friends are coping with the slayings by looking inward, relying on themselves and their faith, just as they have for centuries, to get them through what one Amish bishop called "our 9/11."

The attack began Monday morning, when Charles Carl Roberts IV, a 32-year-old milk truck driver, took over the one-room school, sent the adults and boys out and shot the 10 remaining girls before turning the gun on himself.

State police have said Roberts, who brought lubricating jelly and plastic restraints with him, might have been planning to sexually assault the Amish girls but there was no evidence that he did.

In the aftermath of that violence, the Amish have reached out to Roberts' family.

Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Among Roberts' survivors are his wife and three children.

Roberts revealed to his family in notes he left behind and in a phone call from inside the West Nickel Mines Amish School that he was tormented by memories of molesting two young relatives 20 years ago. But police said Wednesday there was no evidence of any such sexual abuse.

Investigators spoke to the two women Roberts named, who would have been 4 or 5 at the time, and neither recalls being sexually assaulted by Roberts.

"They were absolutely sure they had no contact with Roberts," state police Trooper Linette Quinn said.

Associated Press writer Carolyn Kaster contributed to this report

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