The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

December 10, 2013

Amish school shooter’s kin: Horror, then healing

STRASBURG, Pa. — Once a week, Terri Roberts spends time with a 13-year-old Amish girl named Rosanna who sits in a wheelchair and eats through a tube. Roberts bathes her, sings to her, reads stories. She can only guess what’s going on inside Rosanna’s mind because the girl can’t talk.

Roberts’ son did this to her.

Seven years ago, Charles Carl Roberts IV barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, tied up 10 girls and opened fire, killing five and injuring five others before committing suicide as police closed in.

The Amish responded by offering immediate forgiveness to the killer — even attending his funeral — and embracing his family.

Terri Roberts forgave, too, and now she is sharing her experience with others, saying the world needs more stories about the power of forgiveness and the importance of seeking joy through adversity.

“I realized if I didn’t forgive him, I would have the same hole in my heart that he had. And a root of bitterness never brings peace to anyone,” Roberts said. “We are called to forgive.”

Roberts has delivered the message to scores of audiences, from church groups to colleges, and is writing a memoir. She’s even considered traveling to speak in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year. But she is cautious, mindful an appearance there could give offense.

A book on the Amish school shootings, “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy,” was found among the possessions of Sandy Hook Elementary School gunman Adam Lanza, according to a recent report by the prosecutor in charge of the Newtown investigation. The report said Lanza was preoccupied with mass shootings.

One of Roberts’ sons is making a documentary — called “Hope” — about her remarkable journey from heartbroken mother to inspirational speaker.

Zachary Roberts originally conceived the film to help his mother. But it’s also proving to be cathartic for him.

“It was like a step toward getting this off my shoulders and being able to speak about it,” said Roberts, 35, who lives in Sweden. “I have a kid now, and I don’t want this to be one of those dark family secrets that nobody talks about. I want to be OK with it, and I want my daughter to be OK with it.”

After filming on location in Pennsylvania, Zachary Roberts and the documentary’s producers recently released a trailer and have turned to a crowd-funding website to raise money to complete production.

Roberts appears in the trailer and doesn’t mince words about the challenge that faced his mother after his 32-year-old brother’s rampage: “How does the mother of a mass murderer move forward in life?”

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