Interview: Hard love
Terri Roberts, whose son committed a school shooting, talks to Stephen Tomkins
To lose a son in a school shooting is a mother’s nightmare. But how does she cope with discovering that he was also the gunman? On 2 October 2006, Terri Roberts’ son Charlie – 32 years old and a father of three children – entered the one-room West Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse, with three guns. After sending out the boys and the 20-year-old teacher, he shot ten girls, killing five of them. He then took his own life.
Terri Roberts’ story, however, is not just one of incomprehensible horror and loss, but also of the unimaginable power of forgiveness. Her memoir, Forgiven: The Amish school shooting, a mother’s love and a story of remarkable grace, is published by Bethany House (ISBN: 9780764217326).
When you think of Charlie as a child, what comes
We just all loved him. He was a hardworking child. He had a newspaper round, had neighbourhood friends. He was on the quiet side, but he was a really sweet kid.
And sensitive maybe?
Yes, very sensitive. And after what happened it makes a mother question: What other piece of his life do I not know about? Because it seems obvious that something so distorted truth in his mind that he became what happened on that day, October 2.
Talking about your own childhood you use the word “idyllic” several times in the book.
It was! I had the most awesome parents who are always there for us. I grew up as a young child in the countryside and roamed the woods and the fields and had neighbourhood friends. It was just a very good, very solid childhood.
Followed by a fairytale romance?
Yes. I had all these dreams of being a model and an airline stewardess, then I met my husband. We got married the following year, right after my 18th birthday. We had four sons and we had a wonderful life. Everybody had jobs and worked, and our kids grew up and did their thing, and we had so much to be thankful for.
And the places where you lived as well, Holtwood and Strasburg in Pennsylvania, sound like lovely picturesque places to be.
They are. Just rolling countryside. Very wonderful settings for raising children and for enjoying life.
Going back to the night of 1 October 2006, you had
a family get together.
Charlie, his wife Marie and their children stopped over because I had just come back from a two-week mission trip to France. Marie and I chatted at the breakfast bar; Charlie and his dad were watching the game on TV. At one point Charlie took his older son outside to play baseball. It was just a nice evening.
But in retrospect, I think: Charlie really did seem quiet that evening. I remember, as I sat with Marie, thinking: I wish they would turn that TV off and chat with one another. Those were my thoughts, not knowing what my son had planned the next day…
This is an extract from the May 2016 edition of Reform.