STRASBURG, Pa. -- This year marks a difficult anniversary for many in southern Lancaster County. Ten years ago, on October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts took ten girls hostage inside an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines and went on a shooting rampage, before taking his own life. Five girls died and five survived. The crime stunned the world. The mother of the shooter has written a book to spread her personal message of Forgiveness. Terri Roberts also shared her story with FOX43.
October 2, 2006
It's a day Terri Roberts re-lives over and over again. "We heard helicopters and sirens, and thought 'what could be happening?' Whenever I am driving and hear an ambulance I say a short prayer, so I did that," said Roberts of that day. She had been having lunch with a friend. She would soon find out who those sirens were headed for.
Her husband called and told her she needed to get to their son Charlie's house. "On my way I was listening to the radio. The news reporter said there had been a shooting at a local Amish school and children's lives had been taken." Roberts said she started to worry. "What if he was helping with a rescue and he was shot? What if he was killed?"
The reality was much worse. "When I pulled up to my son's driveway a state trooper and my husband were right in front of me. I asked is my son alive? The trooper said 'no ma'am'. I looked at my husband, and with these dark sunken eyes he said 'it was Charlie, he killed those girls." Roberts remembers falling to the ground. "I was thinking, this cannot be happening. This is not our son. This isn’t the man I know, the wonderful dad to three children and wonderful husband."
To this day Roberts doesn't know her son's motive, but believes mental illness played a role. "His suicide notes showed that there was extreme trauma in his life, of things that he either fabricated, or something had happened in his life that took him down a very dark path, and we don't know what that is. The answers died with Charlie, so how can we ever know?"
What happened in the days and weeks that followed made just as many headlines as the tragedy itself. The same Amish community that her son had targeted, helped her forgive. The evening of the shooting her Amish neighbor Henry visited. "My husband kept wiping the tears away all day. So much so, that he had actually worn a piece of skin away from his forehead. As he sat at the breakfast bar with his head down, Henry came over and just started messaging his shoulders and says 'Roberts we love you. We don’t hold anything against you. We forgive. We forgive your son.' My husband finally looked up and said thank you Henry. That was the first time Chuck raised his head that day. So for me, Henry was my angel in black. It was my first sign of hope," said Roberts.
The kindness of the Amish community grew on the day of her son's funeral. "To see this group of Amish surrounding us, and like protecting us from the media, it was just, there are not words to describe that.Then, the first two parents to that came up to greet us when the service was over, lost two children, two daughters, at the hand of our son," said Roberts. The gestures of the Amish kept the Roberts in their home at a time when all they wanted to do was run and hide. "My husband was saying, 'we're going to have to move far away from here, away from our Amish friends and community.' Henry's reassurance to my husband was just an amazing blessing to him that day and just so unexpected."
Roberts keeps in contact with the surviving victims and their families. Most still live with injuries from the attack, including Rosanna, who has become like a granddaughter to her. "Rosanna is still tube-fed and in a wheelchair. I visited her for the past 8 years, weekly, until a year ago when my health turned with stage four cancer. So she is actually visiting me sometimes now, which is quite incredible," she said. The cancer is her second bout with the disease.
Roberts knew her message needed to live on, even if she doesn't. For years she held off on writing a book. It was her Amish friends who encouraged her. "I never wanted to expose the Amish community, or my grandchildren, in any way that could bring more attention to them that they should not have. And yet, after several years of having teas with the ladies, they were asking am I going to write a book?"
In October Roberts' book "Forgiven: The Amish School Shooting, a Mother's Love, and a Story of Remarkable Grace" was released. "My message is, no matter what you have to face in this life, what trial or trauma you have met with, it is not all of your life. You do not need to live in your sorrow," she said. "To me, I was able to through surrender of my life, and just being able to forgive. The choice that the Amish made, definitely made healing a lot easier, not that any of it was easy."
When asked if she has forgiven her son, she said, "I forgive my son. His pain, and the pain of mental illness, is worse than any cancer."