QUARRYVILLE, Pa. — The gunman who killed five girls in an Amish schoolroom confided to his wife during the siege that he molested two female relatives 20 years ago when he was boy and was tormented by dreams of doing it again, authorities said Tuesday.
Investigators also said that Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, plotted his takeover of the school for nearly a week and that the items he brought — including flexible plastic ties, eyebolts and lubricating jelly — suggest he may have been planning to sexually assault the Amish girls before police closed in.
“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 Miller said.
Holding up a copy of the gunman’s suicide note at a packed news conference, Miller also suggested that Roberts 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 and father of three 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.”
The state police commissioner identified the demons in Roberts’ head a day after the shooting rampage shattered the sense of calm in Lancaster County’s bucolic Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where the Amish live a peaceful, turn-the-other-cheek existence in an 18th-century world with no automobiles and no electrical appliances.
“He certainly was very troubled psychologically deep down and was dealing with things that nobody else knew he was dealing with,” Miller said.
The death toll rose to six Tuesday — including the gunman — when two girls died of their wounds.
Relatives to be interviewed
During the standoff, Roberts told his wife in a cell phone call from the one-room schoolhouse that he molested two female relatives when they were 3 to 5 years old, Miller said. Roberts would have been around 11 or 12 at the time. Also, in a suicide note left for his family, 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 and were hoping to interview them.
Roberts 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.
The crime bore some resemblance to an attack on a high school in Bailey, Colo., where a 53-year-old man took six girls hostage and sexually assaulted them before fatally shooting one girl and killing himself. That attack occurred last Wednesday, the day after Roberts began buying materials for his siege.
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 also had a change of clothing, indicating he had planned a long siege, police said.
He sent the boys and several adults away and bound the girls together in a line at the blackboard. Miller on Tuesday revealed that one of the girls was able to escape with the boys.
A two-by-four 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. “It’s important to note that we had 10 victims at that time that were in the school,” he said.
The girls left in the room were shot at close range shortly after police arrived, Miller said.
“We’re quite certain, based on what we know, that he had no intention of coming out of there alive,” Miller said.
Wife was at prayer group
At the time Roberts’ wife received the phone call, she was attending a meeting of a prayer group she led that prayed for the community’s schoolchildren.
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.
Church members visited with the victims’ families Tuesday, preparing meals and doing household chores, while Amish elders planned the funerals. An Amish woman who helped comfort family members said they were being sustained by prayer.
“It’s a tragedy we’ve never seen before,” said the woman, whose father was a church bishop. Like many Amish, she declined to give her name. “They said it was a happy school,” she said. “The children were happy, the teachers were happy.”
Roberts, from the nearby town of Bart, was not Amish and did not appear to have anything against the Amish, Miller said. He said Roberts was bent on killing girls and apparently figured he could succeed at the serene schoolhouse.
‘They honestly have forgiven’
Rita Rhoads, a local nurse and midwife who delivered several children in the Amish community, told NBC’s Ann Curry that the mother of a 13-year-old girl who died has forgiven Roberts.
“She holds no ill will toward the shooter. She’s very forgiving. Christ forgave us, and we in turn forgive, and they honestly have forgiven,” she said. “Even last night, there was no anger toward the shooter.”
Rhoads described the teenage girl, who she did not identify, as “just beginning to blossom; she was very sweet.”
The victims were members of the Old Order Amish. Lancaster County is home to some 20,000 Old Order Amish, who eschew automobiles, electricity, computers, fancy clothes and most other modern conveniences, live among their own people, and typically speak a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch.
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.”
Sam Stoltzfus, 63, an Amish woodworker who lives a few miles away from the shooting scene, said his grandchildren were full of questions when they came home from another Amish school.
“They were terrified,” said Stoltzfus, whose son took the grandchildren to school Tuesday morning so they wouldn’t have to walk by themselves. “They wanted to know: What was wrong with him? Why was he doing that?”
Stoltzfus said the victims’ families will be sustained by their faith.
“We think it was God’s plan and we’re going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going,” he said. “A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter. The children are better off than their survivors.”
Looking at Columbine
The Pennsylvania attack was the deadliest school shooting since a teenager went on a rampage last year on an Indian reservation in Red Lake, Minn., killing 10 people in all, including five students, a teacher, a security guard and himself.
The Bush administration on Monday called for a school violence summit to be held next week with education and law enforcement officials to discuss possible federal action to help communities prevent violence and deal with its aftermath.
Nationwide, the 1999 Columbine High School massacre near Littleton, Colo., remains the deadliest school shooting, with 15 dead, including the two teenage gunmen.
In Pennsylvania’s insular Amish country, the outer world has rarely intruded. In 1999, two Amish men were sent to jail for buying cocaine from a motorcycle gang and selling it to young people in their community.
There were four murders in Lancaster County in 2005, including the killing of a non-Amish couple who was shot to death in their Lititz home in November by their daughter’s 18-year-old boyfriend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.