Man Shoots 11, Killing 5 Girls, in Amish School

Man Shoots 11, Killing 5 Girls, in Amish School

A dairy truck driver, apparently nursing a 20-year-old grudge, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse here Monday morning and systematically tried to execute the girls there, killing four and wounding seven before killing himself, the police said.

[A fifth child died in a Delaware hospital early Tuesday of wounds from the shooting, The Associated Press reported.

The heavily armed gunman first ordered the 15 boys in the room to leave, along with several adults, and demanded that the 11 girls line up facing the blackboard. As the gunman lashed the students’ legs together with wire and plastic ties, the teacher dashed from the room and called the police around 10:35 a.m.

The gunman, identified as Charles C. Roberts, 32, killed himself as the police stormed the West Nickel Mines Amish School, which is set back in a cornfield on a street of stone houses, barns and silos in Lancaster County, about 50 miles west of Philadelphia. Several of the wounded were in critical condition in area hospitals.

“He wanted to find female victims,” said Col. Jeffrey B. Miller, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “This was a target of opportunity.”

Mr. Roberts had no criminal record or history of psychiatric illness, the authorities said. But notes he left at his home — where he lived with his wife, Marie, and their three children — said he was distraught about a slight that had occurred more than 20 years ago.

The police would not describe the incident that had upset him. But Colonel Miller said Mr. Roberts, who lived near the school but was not Amish, did not appear to have been motivated by religious bias. The police said they were looking into a report that the couple lost an infant daughter in 1997.

When Mr. Roberts arrived at the school shortly before 10:30 a.m., he was carrying a 9-millimeter handgun, Colonel Miller said, and asked the teacher, “Have you seen anything like this?” referring to the weapon. “Can you help me find it?”

When the state police arrived around 10:45, Mr. Roberts had barricaded the doors with bolts and lumber he had brought in his pickup truck, Colonel Miller said.

After a brief cellphone exchange with his wife and then with the state police, Mr. Roberts began shooting, aiming the handgun and a shotgun at the children as they stood lined in front of the room. As the police began charging the building around 11, Mr. Roberts fired a shot into his head, Colonel Miller said.

“He was angry with life; he was angry at God,” Colonel Miller said. “It appears he chose this school because it was close to his home, it had the female victims he was looking for, and it probably seemed easier to get into than some bigger school.”

The rampage was the third fatal shooting at a United States school in the past week but seemed nearly incomprehensible to many residents of the Amish community, where crime rates are so low that many homeowners do not lock their doors and many towns have no police force.

The Amish community in Pennsylvania, which numbers about 55,000, lives an agrarian lifestyle, shunning technological advances like electricity and automobiles. And many say their insular lifestyle gives them a sense that they are protected from the violence of American society. But as residents gathered near the school, some wearing traditional garb and arriving in horse-drawn buggies, they said that sense of safety had been shattered.

“If someone snaps and wants to do something stupid, there’s no distance that’s going to stop them,” said Jake King, 56, an Amish lantern maker who knew several families whose children had been shot.

Mr. Roberts’s relatives said they, too, were stunned by his violent outburst and had had no indication that he had been planning any attack. His wife issued a written statement offering sympathy to the families of his victims and said she could not reconcile the day’s events with the man she had loved.

Her statement was read by a family friend, Dwight Lefever, and described Mr. Roberts as a devoted father who had always taken the time to play with his three children, ferry them to soccer practice and birthday parties, and had “never once refused to help change a diaper.”

“The man that did this thing is not the Charles I was married to for nearly 10 years,” Mrs. Roberts said in the statement.

The police did not release the names of the victims but said all had been girls from 6 to 13.

Once the police entered the building, they found a cache of weapons and supplies that indicated Mr. Roberts had prepared for a long siege. He had a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, two shotguns, a stun gun, two knives, two cans of gunpowder and 600 rounds of ammunition.

In a toolbox near his body, the police discovered bolts he had used to barricade the school doors with two-by-fours, pliers and wires he had used to bind the girls’ legs. Another five-gallon bucket he brought into the building contained earplugs, bathroom tissue and a clean change of clothing, the police said.

Mr. Roberts lived just over a mile from the school in the town of Bart, in a modular home that had a trampoline and sandbox in the yard and was already decorated for Halloween. Neighbors said he was jovial and generally well liked, and they were struggling to understand what had driven him to violence.

“I am dying to know what kind of insult from a girl 20 years ago could have led to this,” said Mary Miller, who lived on his street.

The police said, however, that Mr. Roberts’s co-workers had noticed changes in his behavior over the past several months. While he had long been known as an upbeat and outgoing person, this year he began to appear sullen, his co-workers told the police. Then, late last week, Mr. Roberts once again appeared upbeat at work, Colonel Miller said.

“We think that’s when he decided to do what he did,” Colonel Miller said. “It’s like his worries and burdens were lifted from him.”

The police said most of Mr. Roberts’s weapons appeared to be legal. He bought the 9-millimeter semiautomatic, which he fired at least 13 times during his rampage, from a store five miles from the schoolhouse in 2004. The shotguns and ammunition also appeared to be legal, the police said, although it was not clear whether his possession of a stun gun violated any law.

The police said Mr. Roberts had bought the ammunition and other supplies from area stores over the past several months, so there was no glaring sign that might have alerted store owners that he was about to burst out in violence.

The police said Mr. Roberts called his wife from a cellphone while he was inside the school just moments before the shooting. During the call, Colonel Miller said, Mr. Roberts made a reference to the grievance that he blamed for his despair, then told her: “The police are here. I’m not coming home.”

Colonel Miller said that once the gunfire began troopers charged the building and broke in through several windows in the school. By the time they arrived, however, the children lay dead or wounded in the front of the classroom and Mr. Roberts’s body was a few feet away. One child died in the arms of a trooper as he rushed her out of the building to get medical help, Colonel Miller said.

Lancaster County school officials held an emergency meeting last night to try to ease the concerns of school administrators and parents unnerved by the shooting. County officials said that despite the bloodshed, residents should be confident that most of the schools were safe.

That reassurance gave little comfort, however, to people like Dwylin Bieler, 42, whose 8-year-old daughter played with one shooting victim.

“You think something like this will never happen, especially in a place like this,” said Mr. Bieler, who is Mennonite, and says the Amish community makes him and others feel welcome. “You pray that it won’t happen. But you just never know. You can’t know. And that’s hard to accept.”