Facing the Unthinkable

"For those of us who are parents, you make that immediate leap: Could this happen to your own kids?"

As told to Alexander Gelfand
The Penn Stater
January/February 2007

When Charles Carl Roberts IV laid siege to a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA, on Oct. 2, 2006, he killed five young girls and injured five more before killing himself. It was State Police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey B. Miller ('01 MPA) who led the investigation that followed. Miller, who earned praise for his calm, forthright handling of the situation, spoke with The Penn Stater about what it was like to face the tragedy.

"If you're a police officer long enough, you see a lot of bad things. What made this different was the way in which these crimes were carried out, and the nature of the victims. These were young kids, and they were just slaughtered. [When I arrived at the scene] I saw helicopters in the area, and was informed that they had just airlifted the last survivors from the scene. I saw some of my troopers coming in and out of the scene, and I noticed that several were covered in blood from assisting and trying to save the lives of the children. I was angry and distraught that so many young kids would be victimized like this.

"I made the decision to release as much information as I could, as quickly and as accurately as I could, and I think it took some pressure off. The media did not seem as compelled to go out into the Amish community to get their stories. We wanted to allow the community to deal with this without having this outside crush totally change the context in which they were able to grieve and bury their children.

"For those of us who are parents, you make that immediate leap: Could this happen to your own kids? But there's been so much support. I've received cards and emails and letters from all over the world. So that's been very helpful.

"There were two things that I won't forget. The first is that it was a horrendous crime scene. But you could also see that there were crayons and schoolbooks open on the desks, and it left me with the distinct impression that immediately prior to this man entering this school, it was a safe and nurturing environment. And then this man came into the school and changed everything."

Copyright ©2009 Alexander Gelfand

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