Published October 05, 2006
GEORGETOWN, Pa. – A procession of 34 black, horse-drawn buggies glided past roadblocks in Lancaster County Thursday as hundreds of Amish families and their English friends prepared to bury four of the five young girls who were shot to death inside a schoolhouse this week.
Meanwhile, one of the five girls injured in the shootings was being taken off life support to come home to die.
All roads leading into the village of Nickel Mines, the site of the shooting, were blocked off so the Amish could gather quietly in three homes for funerals of Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Marian Fisher, 13; Mary Liz Miller, 8; and her sister Lena Miller, 7. The funeral for a fifth girl, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, is scheduled for Friday.
Thursday's funeral procession to the hilltop cemetary took the Amish by the home of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the non-Amish man who shot and killed five girls before killing himself in the school. One Amish man craned his head out a buggy window to look at the home.
Relatives of Roberts' wife said Thursday that the Fisher farm was a regular stop on Roberts' milk route.
"We knew that family very, very well," said Jacquie Hess, an aunt of Roberts' widow, Marie. She said the Fishers invited Marie Roberts to their daughter's funeral but she didn't know if she would attend.
Marian Fisher's sister was among five other female students who survived the schoolhouse attack but were seriously injured.
Each girl will be placed in a simple wooden casket, made by a local Amish woodworker, and will be buried in hand-dug graves.
Two state troopers on horseback and a funeral director's black sedan with flashing yellow lights led the cortege, followed by a long horse-drawn buggy carrying the body of 7-year-old Naomi Rose Ebersol.
The Amish have requested privacy during their time of mourning.
The news media was being kept at a church in the village of Georgetown, away from the homes but along the route where buggies will drive to a cemetery for a short graveside service. Even the airspace was restricted so that TV news helicopters couldn't get video from above.
Five girls who were injured in the shooting continue to battle their injuries.
The country coroner, G. Gary Kirchner, said he was contacted Tuesday by a doctor at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey who said doctors were planning to take one victim off life support so that she could be brought home. He said he was told Dr. D. Holmes Morton, who runs a clinic that serves Amish children, would be the clinician in charge.
Morton said Thursday that published reports that a 6-year-old had been taken off life-support and taken home to die were accurate "as far as I know."
"I just think at this point mostly these families want to be left alone in their grief and we ought to respect that," he said.
In Lancaster County, there have been prayer services for the Amish school shooting victims at area churches, but the traditional funerals for the girls were closed. About 300 to 500 people were expected at each, said funeral director Philip W. Furman.
About 300 to 500 people are expected at each funeral, Furman said. The church-led services typically last about two hours.
Amish custom calls for simple wooden caskets, narrow at the head and feet and wider in the middle. An Amish girl is typically laid to rest in a white dress, a cape, and a white prayer-covering on her head, Furman said.
The girls' families, Amish neighbors and friends are coping with the slayings by looking inward, relying on themselves and their faith, just as they have for centuries, to get them through what one Amish bishop called "our 9/11."
"They know their children are going to heaven. They know their children are innocent ... and they know that they will join them in death," said Gertrude Huntington, a Michigan researcher who has written a book about children in Amish society.
"The hurt is very great," Huntington said. "But they don't balance the hurt with hate."
In the aftermath of Monday's violence, the Amish have reached out to the family of Roberts, 32, who committed suicide during the attack in a one-room schoolhouse.
Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Among Roberts' survivors are his wife and three children.
"I hope they stay around here and they'll have a lot of friends and a lot of support," said Daniel Esh, a 57-year-old Amish artist and woodworker whose three grandnephews were inside the school during the attack.
Roberts stormed the school and shot 10 girls before turning the gun on himself. Investigators said Roberts, who brought lubricating jelly and plastic restraints with him, might have been planning to sexually assault the Amish girls.
Roberts revealed to his family in notes he left behind and in a phone call from inside the West Nickel Mines Amish School that he was tormented by memories of molesting two young relatives 20 years ago.
But police said Wednesday there was no evidence of any such sexual abuse. Investigators spoke to the two women Roberts named, who would have been 4 or 5 at the time, and neither recalls being sexually assaulted by Roberts.
"They were absolutely sure they had no contact with Roberts," state police Trooper Linette Quinn said.
FOX News' Todd Connor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.