Under a cold, steady drizzle, the Amish drove in horse and buggy to a farmland cemetery Friday to bury the last of five girls shot to death by an intruder as new details emerged of heroism inside their schoolhouse.
Two of the survivors of the shooting told their parents that 13-year-old Marian Fisher, one of the slain girls, asked to be shot first, apparently hoping the younger girls would be let go, according to Leroy Zook, an Amish dairy farmer.
Zook, who is close with the parents of the girls, said the parents told him that Marian said to the gunman: “Shoot me and leave the other ones loose.”
Zook’s daughter, Emma Mae Zook, was the teacher who ran from the schoolhouse to a farm to summon police.
Amish builder David Lapp said Marian’s younger sister Barbie, who is recovering from gunshot wounds, provided one of the accounts.
“Her sister remembers it, Barbie,” Lapp said.
Trooper Linette Quinn said investigators have not conducted any interview that confirms the story but also said the investigation is incomplete.
Parents of two of the surviving victims have also told Leroy Zook that the children questioned Roberts after the adults left.
“They just asked him why he’s doing this. He said he’s angry with God,” Zook said.
On Friday, more than 40 buggies splashed along country roads behind a funeral-home car, two mounted state troopers and a carriage with the body of 12-year-old Anna Mae Stoltzfus in a hand-sawn wooden coffin.
Four other girls killed during Monday’s shootings, two of them sisters, were laid to rest Thursday at the same hilltop graveyard.
All roads into Nickel Mines village were again blocked, and the funeral procession, like those Thursday, passed the home of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the 32-year-old milk truck driver who took the 10 girls, ages 6 to 13, hostage, tied them up and shot them before killing himself.
One of the surviving girls was reported to be in grave condition. The county coroner said he had been told she was being taken off life support, but her location was not known Friday. The four other girls remain hospitalized.
Funerals for Fisher, 13, Naomi Rose Ebersol, 7, and sisters Mary Liz Miller, 8, and Lena Miller, 7, were held Thursday.
New details also emerged Friday about the scene outside the schoolhouse.
Lapp, the builder, said he was told there was a gunman at the school and arrived before police, stopping a few hundred yards from the school.
“It was a feeling of helplessness,” Lapp said.
He saw all the boys in the school escape through a side door, jump a fence and then huddle together in a meadow. Lapp watched police storm the building and heard the gunfire.
“We just started shaking. There were a couple of us by then,” he said.
There were about 15 boys, ages 6 to 13, in the school.
“They’re still in shock. ... They have this glazed look in their eyes,” woodworker Daniel Esh, whose three grandnephews were in the school, said earlier this week. “They’ll heal, but it will affect them their whole lives.”
Teacher vows to return to students
Just hours after the shootings, the teacher vowed to return to her students. Though just 20, Emma Mae Zook had taught at the school for three years.
“She said, ’Yeah, I need those children now. I need them more than I ever did,”’ Leroy Zook said.
A former teacher at the school said the funerals have been cathartic. Rebecca Petersheim, 29, of Georgetown, attended three funerals over the last two days, one in a woodworking shop and the third in a home.
“I just feel upheld by the prayers of others,” she said.
Despite their outward stoicism, the families of the slain girls and the children who survived the schoolhouse siege will endure the same deep grief as would anyone outside their insular, 19th-century world, experts said.
“(Outsiders) think these people don’t embrace each other, they don’t cry. That’s not true,” said Jonas Beiler, a counselor who was raised Amish and has visited with some of the victims’ families this week.
Beiler, 59, and his wife, Anne, who founded the Auntie Anne’s Inc. pretzel chain, lost an 18-month-old daughter to a farm accident years ago, a tragedy he says nearly destroyed them. They now use some of their fortune to fund a counseling center in nearby Paradise.
“You never get done wondering how things might have been had this not happened, especially when children are involved,” Beiler said. “Years later, it’s not deep grief. But it hangs there.”
Forgiveness easier than seeking revenge
Richard J. Gelles, a childhood violence expert and a University of Pennsylvania dean, said the importance of forgiveness in Amish culture should help survivors heal.
“Nobody has to accept that behavior. But forgiveness is a whole lot easier than seeking revenge,” he said.
Many Amish have embraced the gunman’s wife, Marie Roberts, and their three young children.
Lloyd Welk, Marie Roberts’ grandfather, waited outside for the last funeral procession as a steady rain tapered to a slight drizzle late Friday morning.
Welk said 16 members of the Roberts family, including Marie Roberts and her three children, had a meal together Thursday night. There was a special prayer beforehand for the victims, he said.
“I think she’s holding up real good,” Welk said. She expects to move back into her home and put her children back in school, he said.