Brother of Amish school shooter looks at faith and hope in new documentary
On October 2, 2006, a man named Charles Carl Roberts entered an Amish school house in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, less than a mile from his own home. Once inside, he lined up 10 young girls aged between six and 13 hostage and shot each of them before taking his own life. Five of the girls died, five survived.
Despite the absolute horror of the incident, the forgiveness, support and extreme grace shown by the Amish community shocked the world. Within hours, members of the community, including those of the young victims' families, reached out and physically embraced the murderer's wife, children and family, offering comfort, reconciliation and love.
At Roberts' funeral a group of Amish people surrounded his family, protecting them from news reporters and cameras in their time of mourning. "I realise today, I witnessed a miracle," the funeral director is said to have commented.
Now, seven years after the tragedy, the killer's younger brother, Zachary Roberts, is making a film to document the recovery process of his family and explore the power of forgiveness and hope.
Although he himself doesn't profess a faith, the focus of the movie - and the inspiration behind it - is his mother, Terri Roberts, a devout Christian who believes her faith and that of the Amish community, has helped her to forgive her son and bring hope and life in the aftermath of tragedy.
"I came to a place of a determination. Yes, I will forgive. We need to forgive others, so why wouldn't I forgive my son?" she says in the trailer for the as-yet unfinished documentary.
"The question of why will forever be unanswered," says Zachary of his brother's actions. "How does a mother of a mass murderer move forward in life?"
Speaking to Christian Today, Zachary and his mother have opened up about their journey and the "joy through adversity" Terri has found.
"I personally have been witness to my mother's belief in God and I have seen how her faith has been the bedrock of her life, and how much it has fuelled her with strength to overcome all she has dealt with," Zachary says.
He speaks of the process of forgiveness, explaining that although there was immediate reconciliation between the Roberts and the Amish families, it took a long time for true freedom to come from "the anger, the hurt and the blame".
"The story is called 'Hope' because in the most extreme circumstances, one needs a belief that things can get better...My mother is testament to that hope," he says.
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Zachary is hoping that those who see his film and hear his mother's story will be inspired in their own struggles; finding strength to forgive in their own circumstances.
"Amidst the sorrow, anguish and pain of the first week there was forgiveness for our son whom we loved so dearly," Terri says. "That didn't take away the gut wrenching sorrow, but it did allow us to move forward. Getting stuck in bitterness and pain had severe repercussions for our son. That is not a choice anyone should make."
At the time of the tragedy, Roberts' mother was recovering from an aggressive form of cancer. She had found hope in Philippians 4: 6-7, which encourages believers to present their worries and concerns to the Lord, trusting that they will be given "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding".
Following the devastating events of 2 October 2006, Terri found comfort in verses 8 and 9 of the same chapter: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things...and the peace of God will be with you."
"Had this been our son's mantra daily, would his mind have gone where it did? There are no answers for us here on this earth. They died with Charlie," she says mournfully.
The announcement of Zachary's documentary comes just weeks after Roberts' wife, now remarried and known as Marie Monville, published a book detailing her own experiences.
Entitled 'One Light Still Shines', the book also speaks of the extreme kindness and generosity extended to her family by the Amish community, who showed her "nothing but tenderness and grace when their own hearts had been shattered" and of the hope she has found in God's faithfulness during the past seven years.
"I knew I could either choose to believe that everything I had ever read in the pages of the Word and heard about the Lord were true and somehow he was going to come and rescue our family, or I could choose to believe that we were going down like the fastest sinking ship," said Monville in an interview with the Christian Post.
"'I couldn't figure out any way for God to rescue us," she said, but "I knew that he loved me."
Zachary's documentary is still in production and a fundraising campaign to meet the cost is ongoing at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hope-documentary