Wednesday, October 04, 2006

WITNESS

Marian, 13
Naomi Rose, 7
Anna Mae, 12
Mary Liz, 8
Lena, 7
"They were happy little girls."
---Emma Mae Zook, the girls' young Amish school teacher

Teacher’s escape saved pupils’ lives
Amish instructor tells story for first time

By Colby Itkowitz
Intelligencer Journal

Published: Oct 04, 2006 1:57 AM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Charles Carl Roberts IV failed to look Emma Mae Zook in the eye when she greeted him at her classroom doorway Monday morning.

From this awkward exchange, the Amish schoolteacher sensed trouble.But she never imagined the man would reappear within minutes brandishing a gun he’d use to viciously execute five young girls and severely wound five others.

Inside the Zook home Tuesday evening, Emma Mae and her two sisters-in-law pieced together the horrific events that transpired inside West Nickel Mines School.

Emma Mae, 20, had just brought the 26 Amish schoolchildren in from morning recess.

She was teaching German and spelling when Roberts, wearing a baseball cap, came to the doorway.

The 32-year-old Roberts showed her a clevis, a U-shaped metal fitting with holes in the ends, and asked the teacher if anyone had seen one on the roadway. Earlier reports said he was carrying a gun.

“He stood very close to me to talk and didn’t look in my face to talk,” Emma Mae said.

Emma Mae’s mother, Barbie Zook, was in the school visiting, as were other members of the Zook family.

The door to the schoolhouse was left open, and Roberts walked to the pickup truck he parked outside the school. He came back inside, steadily pointing his gun, the Zooks said.

When the older Zook saw the gun, she looked at her daughter, and they darted outside the school to a nearby farm, where they called the police.

Inside the school, Roberts told a young boy to go after the two women and bring them back or he would shoot everyone, said Emma Mae’s sister-in-law, 23-year-old Sarah, who was also inside the school.

When the little boy left, 9-year-old student Emma Fisher escaped with him. It was a split-second decision that probably saved her life.

Sarah had her 2-year-old daughter and her newborn son with her in the schoolhouse. Her sister, Lydia Mae, 21, is eight months pregnant.

Roberts ordered everyone to the back of the classroom against the chalkboard. The women tried to comfort the little ones, who were quietly crying.

But then Roberts said, “You ladies can leave. Those with children,” Sarah said.

Sarah, her children, Lydia Mae, and Emma Mae’s 16-year-old-sister, Ruth Ann, left the school.“We didn’t want to stay,” Sarah said. “We wanted to take them all out with us.”

The women waited by the playground, unsure what to do. Within a few minutes, all the boys starting filing out of the schoolhouse.

They started an mass exodus to a nearby farm. As they were leaving, they heard Roberts “pounding.” He was nailing boards across the school’s doors, creating barricades, police said.

What was said inside the school after the women and boys left is a mystery known only to the 10 girls who were brutally shot.

Police said Tuesday Roberts might have been plotting to sexually molest the girls but “became disorganized” when police arrived.

Emma Mae said the mothers she spoke to are glad he never got the chance.

The teacher made her rounds Tuesday night meeting with families. Her small, thin face looked shell-shocked and tired, her eyes red.

“They were happy little girls,” she said, her eyes cast down.

Emma Fisher, the little girl who escaped, left her two older sisters in the schoolhouse. Marian, 13, died, and Barbie, 11, is still hospitalized.

Marian, Naomi Rose Ebersol, 7, and Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, died Monday. Mary Liz Miller, 8, died at Christiana Hospital in Delaware Tuesday morning. Her sister, Lena Miller, 7, died Tuesday at Hershey Medical Center.

Outside the Fisher home late Tuesday afternoon, a middle-aged Amish man whose wife has worked in the Fishers’ greenhouse for 13 years described Marian as a “sweet little girl.”

“She always had a smile,” he said. “A wonderful attitude.” Emma Mae’s father, Leroy, said the children in his daughter’s class were always laughing.

Members of the Zook family say they don’t know how they will recover or make sense of the murders that have shaken their quiet community.

Leroy said Emma Mae would like to meet with Roberts’ wife, Marie, to help them both heal.

But, for now, they’re leaning on each other for support and comfort.

“Nobody feels like doing nothing,” Leroy said. “You’re kinda numb.”

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