The killer who shot dead five girls in a one-room Amish schoolhouse was haunted by guilt over his sexual assault of two young female relatives 20 years ago and dreamed he would abuse again, it emerged yesterday.
Suicide notes, mobile phone conversations and the debris left behind at the schoolhouse produced a chilling portrait of the man responsible for the deadly shootings, Charles Roberts IV.
Roberts was 12 at the time of the alleged sexual assaults and his victims were believed to be three or four. Over the last two years, that abuse had come to loom even larger in his mind. “Roberts mentioned in the suicide note that he was having dreams of molesting again,” said state police commissioner Jeffrey Miller.
Roberts was also believed to have been deeply affected by the death of his first child, Elise Victoria. She died moments after her premature birth in 1997.
Evidence released yesterday was in contrast to what friends and neighbours in this close-knit community knew of a man who lived quietly with his wife and three young children. Roberts, the son of a policeman from a neighbouring district, his wife, Marie, and their children lived in a small house. He had set up a basketball hoop on the porch for his two sons and there was a yellow plastic slide at the side.
His wife described him as a devoted father. “He never said no when I asked him to change a diaper,” she said in a statement. He was a familiar figure as he made his rounds in a milk tanker, collecting from dairy farms. “He was a quiet person. I never saw him angry,” said a neighbour. “They were a very nice family.”
Marie Roberts was also well known in the area. The couple lived next door to her grandparents and she was a fixture in her church group. She was at a meeting at the church while her husband was at the schoolhouse. “It cuts us to the core,” said pastor Douglas Hileman.
It was not immediately clear yesterday whether Roberts had committed sexual abuse as a 12-year-old. Police said initial interviews with members of his family produced no evidence of it, although they have yet to speak to the two female relatives he named in a final mobile phone conversation with his wife. It was also uncertain what role the death of the couple’s first child played. “He was angry at God,” said Mr Miller, and that anger, grief and guilt combined to horrific effect on Monday morning. After kissing his wife goodbye and putting their children on the bus to school, Roberts drove towards the Amish schoolhouse.
Police believe he had been planning the attack for days, buying bolts, wood, plastic cord for handcuffs and lubricating jelly. Some of the equipment left at the schoolhouse was bought as early as September 26, although Roberts went back twice for items on the morning of the shooting. He is also thought to brought with him toilet paper and a change of clothing. Police are investigating how he acquired the pistol, rifle, shotgun and 600 rounds of ammunition he had with him.
When he got to the school Roberts went to work in a methodical fashion. He sifted through hostages, releasing adult women and boys, barricading himself in the classroom with the girls who remained. “He was just taking charge, command and control of the children in the vicinity,” Mr Miller said. For all the evidence gathered by police from the extensive suicide notes Roberts left in his home and his truck, and a last conversation when he told his wife he would not be coming home, it remains unclear why Roberts chose that school house, passing another one en route.
He wrote to his wife: “I don’t know how you put up with me all those years. I am not worthy of you, you are the perfect wife you deserve so much better. We had so many good memories together as well as the tragedy with Elise. It changed my life forever 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.”
Police say they believe Roberts selected his victims because of their age and not because they belonged to the Amish sect. None of the victims was sexually assaulted but police believe that may have been his intention.
While that collision between a man’s private demons and a community known for its abhorrence of violence and seclusion from the modern world may have been a random event, it devastated the people of Nickel Mines. The children of 10 families attended the school. Seven of the families were in mourning yesterday or holding vigil over their injured children. The oldest victim was 13.
All the families who used the school live along the same road; yesterday there were dozens of condolence visits from their fellow Amish. The road was part of the regular milk run and Roberts was a daily visitor to at least two of the families. He visited one of their homes on Sunday night. Yesterday one of their daughters Marian Fisher was dead and her younger sister Barbie, 10, was fighting for her life.
“I knew him good,” said Rachel Fisher, a distant relative whose dairy farm lies on a nearby road. Two of her children had been at another Amish schoolhouse, even closer to Roberts’ home.
“I don’t know how you put up with me all those years. I am not worthy of you, you are the perfect wife you deserve so much better. We had so many good memories together as well as the tragedy with Elise. It changed my life forever 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.”