GEORGETOWN, Pa. – Scores of horse-drawn buggies from across the Pennsylvania countryside clip-clopped past the home of the schoolhouse gunman to a wind-swept, hilltop graveyard Thursday as the Amish buried four of the girls killed in their classroom.
In a doleful scene that looked like a 19th-century tintype, hundreds of Amish – boys and bearded men in wide-brimmed hats and dark suits, women and girls in long black dresses and black mourning bonnets – stood near a huge mound of earth for the brief graveside services.
The daylong series of three funeral processions took the coffins past the home of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the 32-year-old milk truck driver who laid siege Monday to the girls’ one-room schoolhouse in an attack so traumatic that the building may soon be razed to obliterate the memories.
Pennsylvania state troopers on horseback and a funeral director’s black car with flashing yellow lights cleared the way for up to four dozen buggies, including black carriages carrying the hand-sawn wooden coffins of 7-year-old Naomi Rose Ebersol, then 13-year-old Marian Fisher, then sisters Mary Liz Miller, 8, and Lena Miller, 7. The funeral for the fifth girl, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, was scheduled for today.
The girls, in white dresses made by their families, were laid to rest in graves dug by hand in a small burial ground bordered by cornfields and a white rail fence. Amish custom calls for simple wooden coffins, narrow at the head and feet and wider in the middle.
To protect the privacy of the Amish, all roads leading into the village of Nickel Mines were blocked off for both the funerals, which were held in the families’ homes, and the burials.
Amish funerals are conducted in German and focus on God, not on commemorating the dead. Mourners do not sing, but ministers read hymns and passages from the Bible and an Amish prayer book.
Donors from around the world are pledging money to help the families of the five dead and the five wounded in amounts ranging from $1 to $500,000. The families could face steep medical bills.
Though the Amish generally do not seek help from outside their community, Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service, an agency managing the donations, quoted an Amish bishop as saying: “We are not asking for funds. In fact, it’s wrong for us to ask. But we will accept them with humility.”
At the behest of Amish leaders, a fund has also been set up for the killer’s widow and three children.