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Death Toll Climbs in Amish Schoolhouse Attack


Police in Pennsylvania are still trying to figure out what led a gunman to attack an Amish schoolhouse yesterday. Three girls were killed in the shooting, and two more died overnight. At least five children are reported in critical condition.

This is the third case of school violence in the past week, and that's prompted President Bush to call for a conference on the problem.


NPR's Larry Abramson reports from Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

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LARRY ABRAMSON: The thump of news helicopters blended with the clip clop of horse drawn buggies, as a media scrum descended on Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, 60 miles west of Philadelphia. Reporters struggled to get already reclusive Amish residents to explain the inexplicable - why a 32-year-old milk deliveryman named Charles Carl Roberts would plot a takeover of an Amish school, singling out the female students for execution.

At a briefing held at a nearby auction house, State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller said the gunman was carrying three guns, two knives and he'd also filled up a pickup truck with supplies he used to barricade himself into the building.

Commissioner JEFFREY MILLER (State Police Commissioner, Pennsylvania): He came here prepared. It wasn't a spur of the moment thing. From what we can see, it appears that he did a lot of time in planning and preparation, and intended to harm these kids and intended to harm himself.


ABRAMSON: Miller said that Roberts, who was not Amish, began showing the children one of the three guns and other weapons he'd brought with him. He then started lining up the kids, age six to 13 years old. He released all the boys, as well as four women who were either pregnant or had young children with them.

Meanwhile, Roberts' wife had found a suicide note at the couple's home nearby. She called her husband, who explained he wanted revenge for something that had happened 20 years ago.

Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller indicated police are still holding on to those details.

Commissioner MILLER: We're still looking into that. I'm not really prepared to speak on that yet. I mean there's some things that we have to continue to investigate there.

ABRAMSON: The scene inside the school, according to police descriptions, was horrible. Roberts shot most of the victims execution-style in the head, after binding their feet with wire and plastic ties. Police say Roberts told them to leave the scene, or else he'd start shooting, but then immediately started firing.

Police tried to break in through a window, but before they could get inside Roberts shot himself.

Paramedic John Stoltzfus(ph) said he was shocked when he saw the scene.

Mr. JOHN STOLTZFUS (Paramedic): It was very traumatic just to see the children. That somebody actually did this to the children makes me upset when I hear that he actually did that. I don't know. It's just sad to see that these innocent children, that actually their lives were taken. They're so young.

ABRAMSON: Many Amish talked amongst themselves, but refused to speak to reporters.

One woman identified herself as Irene, a mother of five, an Amish Mennonite, and therefore less strict in her beliefs. She said this incident convinced her that the Amish are right to close themselves off from progress and from the outside world.

IRENE: We have it very safe compared to where they are, say, in Iraq or Iran, or even in Africa - some of the countries in Africa - and all of the horrible things that are going on in some of the big cities in the United States.

ABRAMSON: Roberts had lived among the Amish for years, and police say there's no reason to think he had a vendetta against the religious group. The school, they say, was probably a target of opportunity. It was just down the road from his house.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

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AMOS: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.