Sunday, October 08, 2006

Five Little Girls

The country recoiled in horror again with the news that yet another madman had invaded an elementary school and had killed innocent children that were trapped inside. Only this latest attack on innocents seemed even more incomprehensible at first blush as the victims this time were 11 Amish girls. 5 of them drew their last breaths in a rural schoolhouse in Georgetown, Pennsylvania. I guess this proves that there is no safety anywhere in this world when the even Amish are no longer immune.

The killer was a milkman named Charles Roberts. He let the boys in the school go free. He then lined the girls up against the blackboard and shot them down. He then turned the gun upon himself. Thank God. The police found sexual lubricant, ropes and boards in the materiel he carried into the school, which suggests that he had planned to bind and sexually assault these babies as well. There is no evidence that he got that far. Like I said, Thank God.

One of the survivors said that Roberts told them that he was mad at God. In his suicide note there is talk of the death of a beloved child. There is talk that he had molested children himself. But he was likewise described by friends and relatives as a "good father" and "good neighbor." He kissed his children goodbye before he left for work on that day.

Based upon his last hour on this planet, it is an understatement to suggest that Roberts' outward normalcy was but a "mask of sanity" to paraphrase the psychiatric term. It is likewise an understatement to refer to Roberts in any way other than as a coward of the basest sort. Not only did he slaughter innocent children, they were the children of a good and religious people known both for their pacifism and their refusal to utilize modern technology. Roberts was not unintelligent and he was lucid if only in the tenuous sense that he had sufficient roots in reality to formulate a plan and to stick with it.

Accordingly, it is not a stretch to believe that the little schoolhouse was a target of opportunity precisely because he knew there would be no security. There would be no calls to 911, no text messages to the outside world seeking help. In short, he knew his victims were utterly and completely incapable, either philosophically or strategically, of offering any defense and that help would be slow in coming. Like I said, he was a coward of the basest sort.

And yet, just before he set about his murderous task, Charles Roberts, though undeserving of any measure of it, found himself confronted by the transcendent.

One of the slain girls was a 13 year old named Marian Fisher. Two of the survivors have testified that Marian asked that she be shot first, evidently in hopes that the little ones would be set free.

"Shoot me and leave the other ones loose." Marian is quoted as having said to Roberts even as she was staring down the barrel of his gun.

"Shoot me and leave the other ones loose."

As the old hymn says, " I scarce can take it in." In the last moments of her young life, and confronted by unspeakable terror, this courageous girl offered herself up as a living sacrifice, the vehicle of her proffered bargain being merely the Sermon on the Mount and John 15:13 condensed into the earnest dialect of the Amish people.

" Shoot me and leave the other ones loose." Imagine.

Gary Roberts was buried yesterday in a family plot. The Washington Post reported that 75 Amish folks were in attendance. They have assured the family of Charles Roberts that they forgive him.

Let's not get carried away. There are no positives here. No silver linings. The good and gentle Amish people have now experienced the worst case scenario that all parents in the outside world dread everyday whenever there is news of this kind of mindless assault on kids. 5 little girls have been torn from the arms of their parents. And yes, Roberts leaves a widow and 2 orphans who will forevermore be marked with the stain of his murderous rage.

And yet. Transcendence was here as well and it appeared in the unflinchingly brave words of Marian Fisher and in the willingness of a community of friends to forgive the unforgivable.

Ask yourself. Could you forgive the man who killed somebody you loved? Would you volunteer to die to save a friend?

What would you have done?

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