A police search of the truck Roberts had used to drive to the school, revealed a checklist he had made in obvious preparation for his day of horror. Many items had been ticked off the list and matched items Roberts had taken with him into the school building. The list included binoculars, flashlights, earplugs, a hose, hammer, hacksaw, pliers, wire, screws, eyebolts, tape, candles and toilet paper, which led police to believe that Roberts had anticipated a prolonged siege and had planned carefully for this eventuality.
In the rambling and largely nonsensical notes Roberts had left for his wife, he spoke of the death of his daughter, Elise, who had been born prematurely in 1997 and had sadly died only 20 minutes after birth. He claimed this was the reason for his anger at God and his sense of overwhelming emptiness and despair.
Roberts also wrote of something he had done 20 years previously, when he was 12 years old. He said he had molested two of his young female relatives, then aged between three and five, and that he had been fantasising about repeating this crime. When police questioned Roberts’ two alleged victims, who were then adults, they both denied they had been abused.
Despite the fact that Roberts had packed lubricant and only kept the girls hostage, whilst letting the boys free, no evidence of sexual abuse was found. Criminologists were of the opinion that Roberts was likely to have had violent erotic fantasies, or ’rehearsal fantasies’, for some time prior to his day of fateful shooting. All the evidence pointed to a carefully considered and cold-blooded plan of violence and death.
On the day of the shooting, Marie Roberts made a public statement that “The man that did this today was not the Charlie I’ve been married to for almost 10 years. My husband was loving, supportive, thoughtful. All the things you’d always want and more. He was an exceptional father. Our hearts are broken, our lives are shattered, and we grieve for the innocents and lives that were lost today. Above all, please pray. Pray for the families who lost children today, and please pray too for our family and children.”
Roberts’ funeral was held on 7 October 2006 and whilst neither Roberts nor his family were Amish, his funeral was attended by a large number of shocked Amish neighbours, who were determined to forgive Roberts his terrible sins. He was buried in his wife’s family plot behind the Georgetown United Methodist church, only a few miles from where the shootings had occurred. The one-room West Nickel Mines Amish School in Lancaster County was torn down 11 days after the tragedy.
In the aftermath, police searched for clues as to what had driven Roberts to kill. They interviewed his parents and other relatives and it emerged that there was no known family history of violence or abuse. Roberts had no criminal record and had never been wanted by authorities for any crime.
According to forensic psychologist Dr Katherine Ramsland, Roberts behaved in a similar way to other mass murderers, who believe that the only way to end their pain and bitterness is in a last display of public violence. She maintained that Roberts was not only filled with self-hate and had intended to die but that his chosen victims were symbolic targets for his rage. Dr Ramsland went on to explain that this often happens in childhood, when a person experiences some sort of trauma but is not able to deal with it at the time. Their fear and anger become sublimated but eventually find expression in fantasies of inflicting revenge or punishment on others.
Similar cases
Police investigators believed that Roberts might have been inspired by other crimes of a similar nature. In particular, there were two cases of fatal shootings in the week preceding Roberts’ massacre.
On Wednesday, 27 September 2006, Duane Morrison, 53, entered a classroom in a school in Bailey, Colorado. He made the boys leave and kept six girls hostage, forcing them to line up at the front of the classroom. Morrison later let four of the girls leave and he sexually assaulted the remaining two before the SWAT team burst into the room. Morrison shot at the two girls, fatally wounding Emily Keyes, 16, and then put the gun to his head and killed himself.
Two days later, on Friday, 29 September 2006, a high school student from Madison, Wisconsin, fatally gunned down his principal after he had complained about being bullied and had been disciplined for carrying tobacco at school.
Three days after that, on Monday, 2 October 2006, Roberts perpetrated his heinous crime.
Other crimes that may have influenced Roberts had happened many years before. On 6 December 1989, Marc Lepine, 25, went on a killing spree at the University of Montreal’s Engineering School. He targeted random females, as he believed feminism was to blame for his lack of opportunities and his miserable life. Lepine had planned the shooting for months and was well armed. He killed 14 and wounded 15 people before killing himself.
In 1966, Charles Whitman shot 44 people from a tower in Austin, Texas, killing 14. He had prepared for a long siege, taking with him barricades, a change of clothing, a large supply of ammunition, and even toilet paper.
No one will ever know for certain what mental and emotional demons caused Roberts to commit his seemingly senseless act of violence against innocent school children. However, perhaps we can all try to emulate the Amish community in forgiving such a tortured soul.