Eight years and one week before giving a chapel talk at Eastern Mennonite University on Oct. 8, 2014, Marie Roberts (as she was then named) was a stay-at-home mother of three. At age 28, she was living her life’s dream, married to Charlie, who had asked for her hand when she was in high school.
On the morning of Oct. 2, 2006, Charlie walked his two school-aged children to their schoolbus stop, kissed them, and told them he loved them. Charlie then departed to (presumably) drive his usual milk route in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
From the Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2006:
Five young Amish girls are dead, and five more are seriously injured, after being lined up in their one-room school Monday and shot “execution style” by a heavily armed milk truck driver who then took his own life, police said.
Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, was armed with three guns, two knives and 600 rounds of ammunition when he burst into the schoolhouse, forced the girls to line up against a blackboard and shot them at close range in the back of the head, police said.
Pennsylvania State Police commissioner Col. Jeffrey B. Miller, who described the crime scene as “horrendous,” said Roberts apparently was motivated by rage over a long-ago incident unconnected to the school or the Amish community.
Deduced from a letter Charlie left for Marie to read, he was twistedly depressed and angry at God, dating back to early in their marriage when the couple lost a daughter at 26 weeks, followed by an ectopic pregnancy. Perhaps following a psychotic breakdown, he took out his anger on the Amish girls in the schoolhouse.
In the morning chapel at EMU, followed by an evening session in the student-run coffee house, Marie spoke about growing up in a devoutly Christian home in rural Lancaster. She was a quiet, shy girl whose only aspiration was to be a good wife and mother – never, ever, conceiving in her worst nightmare of becoming known around the world as “the shooter’s wife.”
That horrible day, after the police had come to her home and told her what Charlie had done, she felt she had to choose between two options: (1) to turn away from God in whom she had always trusted, while she and her children went down “like the fastest sinking ship” or (2) to continue believing that God keeps his promises to walk with those suffering. “God spoke to my heart on that day of the shooting… ‘I’m not going to fix it, but I am going to redeem it.’”
The God-sent miracles began with a visit of Amish community members to her home, where they met first with her father and hugged him and assured him that they were praying for the Roberts family, with forgiveness for what Charlie had done. At Charlie’s funeral service and burial site, Amish men and women formed a wall in front of the media’s cameras, helping to shield Marie and her family from the glare of publicity.
“They live compassion and they live grace and they live love,” Marie said in an article by Elizabeth Tenety, published by FaithStreet online. “They just do it so seemingly effortlessly, but it’s a choice that they make.”
Marie, who is now happily remarried with the last name of Monville, is the author of One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting, published in October 2013. She is part of a blended family; her eldest child from her first marriage attends Lancaster Mennonite School as a sophomore. She is still a stay-at-home mother – active in the family’s church, running to her children’s extracurricular activities, volunteering at their schools. But God has also transformed her into a motivational speaker and blogger about his presence in everyone’s lives.
“God has a beautiful plan and a destiny for all of us,” she told the hundreds who turned out for her EMU chapel talk. That doesn’t mean we won’t face pain and loss, she added. But God will also give us everything we need to cope with that pain and loss.
“He transforms broken places into whole places,” she said. She described the “faith walk,” as “trusting that something beautiful will come out of this [grief].”
“The love of God is a light,” she added, “that will never go out, no matter how dark.”