Amish school shooter's wife: 'God is looking for us to bring Him a yielding heart'
By Richard Gaw
To Marie Roberts, the mother of two small children, the morning of October 2, 2006 began much the way life normally begins in Lancaster County.
There was a beautiful October sky above. Her husband, Charlie, had just returned home from his shift as a milk truck driver, in time to see his kids off at the school bus stop. Later that morning, Marie found rambling suicide notes that Charlie had left for her in the home. She called him immediately, but all he kept telling her was, 'Tell the kids that I love them.'
"I am not coming home," he told her that morning.
Nearly an hour later, Marie began to hear the sirens of police cars in the distance and the whir of overhead helicopters fly over her home. Eventually, the police came to her front door. "This is about my husband, isn't it?" she asked the officers.
The officers solemnly answered, 'Yes.'
"And he's dead, isn't he?" she asked.
"Yes," they answered.
Charlie Roberts, Marie was told, had walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., earlier that morning. Singling out five girls aged between six and 13, he then ordered the male pupils and teachers out of the classroom, and lined each girl up in a straight line. One-by-one, he shot the children in the head. He then turned the gun on himself. The reason for such an atrocious crime could be traced to what Marie believed was hidden in one of her husband's suicide notes. In it, he wrote about the death of Elise, the couple's premature child who was born in 1997 and lived for just 20 minutes.
By the middle of the afternoon, word of the shootings reached nearly very major news source in the world. Now, nearly eight years after the tragedy, the Amish communities of Lancaster County are still reeling from what happened on that day. While the lingering effects of that day still haunt her, Marie feels that her life has been renewed by her belief that "God is a god of comfort."
On Friday, April 10, she shared her story with a congregation of more than 125 at the West Grove United Methodist Church, in conjunction with the release of her book, "One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of The Amish Schoolhouse Shooting." (2013, Amazon.com.)
Now re-married and living in Lampeter, Pa., Marie Monville provided what she called the back story of the tragedy, "just to help you understand the magnitude of what God has done," she said. "He has changed the way I saw my life and what I thought I was capable of."
When Monville was younger, she said that her life goals were to become a wife and mother. She met her first husband in high school and got married after her senior year and planned to start a family. She became pregnant during the first year of marriage, but after just 26 weeks, their premature child had died.
These were not the dreams she had for her life, Monville said. "For me, everywhere I looked there were all of these babies," she said. "Friends, family, everywhere we turned, someone else was expecting a child, and it only made our loss and emptiness all the more evident to us."
Monville struggled to come to terms with their loss, and looked to God for answers. During that time, she said, she began to understand God "as a God of comfort," she said. "I see Him as truly a parent with a heart of love. He wants to comfort each of you, in a way that's tangible, that he is walking this journey with you."
To help her recover, Monville sought solace in, of all activities, mowing her grandfather's lawn. It became a place for her to be with the Lord.
"You might not think that riding around on a lawnmower sounds like a quiet place, but our quiet place with the Lord is not always in a prayer closet," she said. "I found comfort there, while I was wearing my headset and singing, 'Praise to the Lord.' That was what I needed to do, the answer to coming to terms with the loss that I knew in this place of contentment I was wrestling to find."
Soon after, the couple endured the loss of a second premature child. Monville knew that her circumstances did not resemble the life that she drempt for herself, but she knew that the promise would ultimately be fulfilled.
"There isn't one promise that He's failed to fulfill," Monville said. "Sometimes, they don't look like the substance of what we thought, but He never fails to make good on the promises He makes with us. I knew I could trust Him. I knew that He was there to comfort me."
Their daughter Abigail, now 15, was born a few years later, followed by her brothers Bryce and Carson.
While her relationship with God continued to grow, she said that Charlie's faith had been damaged. He refused his wife's suggestion to talk with their pastor or a specialist.
On October 2, 2006, "there was no way to know what was coming that day," she said. "There were no blaring signs in the time leading up to it and certainly no signs during that morning."
After the tragedy, Monville said that she had two choices to make: to choose to believe that she was part of a quickly-sinking ship, or she could choose to believe that God would rescue her and her children.
"I knew the way that He had entered my heart," Monville said. "I knew that He was so close, and I knew that I could trust Him. Even though I knew I had nothing, I knew I had nothing to lose. He was going to do something I could not imagine."
As she began to slowly repair her life, Monville found solace in the stories of redemption that are told in the Bible. Just eight months after the tragedy, she married her current husband, Dan, and also added two step-children to her life.
"God builds our lives in rich ways that we could never have anticipated. It doesn't mean that it's made life easy, but it's made life wonderful because of who He is.
"He continues to write this amazing redemption story," she said. "He's not looking for us to be perfect. He's looking for us to bring Him a yielding heart."
To learn more about Marie Monville, visit www.mariemonville.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.