Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Deputy coroner says Amish school scene was 'horrible'

The Associated Press

QUARRYVILLE, Pa. - When a deputy county coroner arrived at an Amish schoolhouse where 10 children had been shot, she found blood on every desk, every window broken and the body of a girl slumped beneath the chalkboard.

"It was horrible. I don't know how else to explain it," Amanda Shelley, a deputy coroner in Lancaster County, said Wednesday morning. "I hope to never see anything like that again in my life."

The gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, who invaded the peaceful schoolhouse Monday was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a button-down shirt, Shelley said. He had stationed weapons around the schoolhouse and, echoing the details of a disturbing plot explained by police on Tuesday, "really appeared he had planned on staying there a few hours," said Shelley, 30.

Roberts acted methodically in the days before the shooting, police said. He started buying supplies six days earlier, made a checklist of what to bring and wrote out four separate suicide notes.

Roberts had with him a change of clothes and toilet paper, but his siege ended quickly when police showed up. He opened fire on 10 tied-up little girls, killing five of them, and then killed himself.

Roberts said he was tormented about molesting two relatives 20 years ago and by dreams of doing it again, police said Tuesday. Authorities also raised the possibility that Roberts, who brought lubricating jelly with him, may have been planning to sexually assault the Amish girls.

"It's very possible that he intended to victimize these children in many ways prior to executing them and killing himself," State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller said. But Roberts became disorganized when police arrived, and shot himself in the head, Miller said.

The forensic experts who responded to the schoolhouse found a disturbing scene, Shelley said.

Underneath a sign that reads "Visitors Brighten People's Days," they found the girl's body near the chalkboard and Roberts' body face-down next to the teacher's desk, Shelley said. All the other victims had been removed, said Shelley, an on-and-off criminal justice student who isn't attending school right now.

Deputy Coroner Janice Ballenger described to the Intelligencer Journal of Lancaster the horrific task of examining 7-year-old Naomi, who weighed about 50 pounds. "Kneeling next to the body and counting all the bullet holes was the worst part," Ballenger told the newspaper.

Roberts left separate suicide notes for his wife and each of his three children, who are all 6 years or younger, at their home in Bart, Miller said.

Roberts also said he was haunted by the death of his prematurely born daughter in 1997. The baby, Elise, died 20 minutes after being delivered, Miller said.

Elise's death "changed my life forever," the milk truck driver wrote to his wife. "I haven't been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate towards God and unimaginable emptyness it seems like everytime we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger."

During the standoff at the West Nickel Mines Amish School, Roberts told his wife in a cell phone call that he molested two female relatives when they were 3 to 5 years old, Miller said. Also, in the note to Marie Roberts, he said he "had dreams about doing what he did 20 years ago again," Miller said.

Police could not immediately confirm Roberts' claim that he molested two relatives. Family members knew nothing of molestation in his past, Miller said. Police located the two relatives, but had not interviewed them as of late Wednesday morning, Trooper Linette Quinn said.

At the time Roberts' wife received the phone call, she was attending a meeting of a prayer group she led.

"He certainly was very troubled psychologically deep down and was dealing with things that nobody else knew he was dealing with," Miller said.

Emma Mae Zook, 20, who was teaching German and spelling at the school, told the Intelligencer Journal she sensed trouble when Roberts came to her classroom door, wearing a baseball cap.

"He stood very close to me to talk and didn't look in my face to talk," she said.

Zook and her mother, Barbie Zook, who was visiting the school, managed at one point to dart outside, run to a nearby farm and call police.

Roberts, who was not Amish and did not appear to have anything against the Amish, had planned the attack for nearly a week, buying plastic ties from a hardware store on Sept. 26 and several other items less than an hour before entering the school, Miller said.

Using a checklist that was later found in his pickup truck, Roberts brought to the school three guns, a stun gun, two knives, a pile of wood for barricading the doors, and a bag with 600 rounds of ammunition, police said.

He sent the boys and several adults away and bound the girls together in a line at the blackboard. One of the girls in the class was able to escape with the boys, Miller said.

A piece of lumber found in the school had 10 large eyebolts spaced about 10 inches apart, suggesting that Roberts may have planned to truss up the girls and sexually assault them, Miller said.

The girls left in the room were shot at close range shortly after police arrived, Miller said.

The victims were identified as Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12; Marian Fisher, 13; Mary Liz Miller, 8; and her sister Lena Miller, 7. Stoltzfus' sister was among the wounded.

Three other girls were in critical condition and two were in serious condition. They ranged in age from 6 to 13.

Police on Wednesday opened the road to the tan, stucco schoolhouse, which sits across the street from a soybean field and is surrounded by fields and pastures. All the windows and doors are boarded up and have yellow "no trespassing" signs.

Church members visited with the victims' families Tuesday, preparing meals and doing household chores, while Amish elders planned the funerals.

Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, spoke at a community prayer service Tuesday evening and said he was at the home of Roberts' father when an Amish neighbor came to comfort the family.

"He stood there for an hour, and he held that man in his arms, and he said, 'We will forgive you,'" Lefever said. "He extended the hope of forgiveness that we all need these days."

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