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Amish Deceased Laid to RestAfter Lurid Monday Massacre

By Ian Urbina


As is customary in Amish tradition, guests brought food, not flowers. A hymn was read in 16th-century German, but there was no singing. The dead were laid in simple pine coffins and dressed in homemade white dresses, symbolizing purity. Two sermons were given, both in Pennsylvania Dutch.

Four days after a grisly attack on an Amish schoolhouse here, funerals were held Thursday for four of the five girls killed by a gunman who wrote of being forever changed by the death of his newborn daughter and driven over the edge by fantasies of sexually assaulting young girls.

The first of Thursday’s services began at 9 a.m. in the woodworking shop of the father of the deceased, Naomi Rose Ebersol, 7.

“We are here facing the unexpected,” said one of the two Amish pastors who spoke and whose remarks were relayed by a Mennonite minister who attended, David Nissley. “We know and believe that these girls are in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ.” The man said the pastor read from the Book of Matthew, about the importance of innocence.

“Unless you become like these little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,” the pastor said, emphasizing the need for the faithful left behind to regain the purity and innocence threatened by the killings.

After the 90-minute service, about 300 men with long beards and women in white bonnets climbed into their black and grey buggies and clip-clopped in quiet procession to Bart Amish Cemetery. Along the way they passed the home of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the 32-year-old killer, who was a milk truck driver.

A few hours later, a similar ceremony was held in the barn of the family of the oldest victim, Marian Fisher, 13, who told Roberts during the attack on Monday to kill her and spare her classmates. And in late afternoon, the service for Mary Liz Miller, 8; and her sister Lena Miller, 7, got under way.

Another victim, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, is to be buried Friday.

Roberts shot a total of 10 young girls. One was taken off life support Tuesday and brought home to die, officials said. Two others remain in critical condition and two in serious condition.

At times the tragic irony of the week’s events was overpowering. On Wednesday, a stone-faced deputy county coroner, Amanda Shelley, described for reporters the blood on the walls of the one-room schoolhouse where the rampage occurred. But her composure dissolved when she mentioned a sign hanging beneath the chalkboard. It read: “Visitors Brighten People’s Days.”

Since Tuesday, Amish mourners had attended viewings of the victims at the families’ homes.

Rita Rhoads, a midwife who had delivered two of the girls who were killed, said that during the gatherings, in which caskets were open, young mourners were encouraged to touch the body.

“It is part of the realization that the person is no longer in the body,” said Rhoads, a Mennonite who has attended many Amish funerals. “It’s part of the reality of life.”