I know a little bit about the Amish, having lived in Philadelphia for a time. Often on my days off I would take a little motor trip into Pennsylvania Dutch country. There one would encounter bearded men in straw hats and denim work clothes, the trousers always supported by suspenders. Their conveyances would be black buggies drawn by no-nonsense work horses. Tourists would often honk and wave, but seldom get a hand signal in return. The Amish you see, are the most conservative of the Mennonite Church and keep to themselves, shunning modern ways.

Yet their world was to be invaded this week by one Charles Carl Roberts IV in a manner so brutish and reptilian as to defy both logic and the power of imagination. At this writing, five of the children taken hostage by Roberts in their one-room schoolhouse are dead. Four others are in critical condition, fighting for their lives. And a fifth, a 6-year old, has been taken on life support and sent home to die.

For this we have Charles Carl Roberts IV to thank, a local milk truck driver who cornered the young girls in their school house, shackled them, and then began his shooting spree. The shootings apparently began sooner than Roberts intended, for he clearly had planned a longer ordeal for the young girls, ranging in age from seven to 13. We know this because Roberts had a list of items which were found at the scene, which included plastic restraints and KY Jelly, a sexual lubricant. Police officials said Roberts “intended to victimize these children in many ways prior to executing them.”

One of the victim’s father said it was better that the girls are dead than to be sexually molested and subjected to extreme physical suffering. From the notations left behind by Roberts, it was not to be one or the other for the Amish youngsters, but both – torture and death. These same notes contained a jumble of thoughts from Roberts including the death of his prematurely born daughter in 1997, and a disclosure that he had molested two female relatives years ago when they were three to five years old. Roberts’ family members said they knew nothing of such an event.

Could anyone other than a beast have chosen his victims and the locale for such a wanton act? These were little girls – innocent, blameless, unsuspecting. There were members of a strict religious community known for its plain and simple ways. One can scarcely bear to think of them all in row, watching the first of the 10 having her brains blown all over the school room by a shotgun blast. All were shot in the head. Of those who survived but remain in critical condition, one can only imagine the life that lies ahead, should they somehow pull through. A deputy coroner, Janice Ballenger, said she counted multiple wounds in many of the bodies.

The relatives of the slain and wounded girls said their religion teaches them to forgive people who hurt or wrong them. Indeed, some Amish members visited the Roberts home just hours after the shootings and said they had already forgiven him. A spokesman for Mennonite Disaster Services said it was possible that Roberts’ survivors, his wife and three children, might even receive some money from the fund.

But forgiveness for Roberts is not that simple. We are all members of the society that was savaged in the quiet farmlands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We have given up many, many rights to our government in exchange for “protection” and an orderly environment. When an innocent person is a victim of a crime, this sacred pact with the government has been broken. We cannot impose capital punishment on Charles Carl Roberts IV, since he took his own life. But had he survived, capital punishment would have been the only redemption of the contract that society owed to those innocent Amish girls. We failed miserably to protect them. And further, we now cannot guard their dignity posthumously by taking the life of him who took their lives. This is the additional outrage that Charles Carl Roberts IV has imposed on society.






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