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Pa. state trooper praised for response to gunman at Amish schoolhouse

Every bullet the gunman fired came in the first eight seconds
It took about 2 1/2 minutes for police to force their way into the building once the gunfire erupted. . .That highlighted the need for better training and equipment to deal with barricaded gunmen

By Mark Scolforo
The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. The first state trooper to breach the Amish school where 10 girls were shot last year got inside by ripping out part of a window frame with his bare hands, helping save the lives of five of them, the state police chief said.

State police chief Jeffrey Miller pauses during an interview with the AP, Sept. 20, in Harrisburg, Pa. In his first in-depth interview since the Amish schoolhouse massacre nearly a year ago, Miller describes how the first trooper to get inside the building tore out part of a window frame with his bare hands. (AP Photo/Jason Minick)

The trooper used a ballistic shield to batter a window at West Nickel Mines Amish School, then pulled out part of the frame, injuring himself, and dove through to find the gunman still alive, Commissioner Jeffrey Miller said Thursday.

Charles C. Roberts IV had just shot 10 young girls. Five of them died.

"At the time, he was reloading. I have no question about what he was going to do, which is finish these kids off that were still alive," Miller told The Associated Press in his first in-depth interview about the shootings since shortly after the Oct. 2 massacre.

He said that when Roberts saw the trooper, "instead of shooting these girls again, he shoots himself and he's dead on his feet."

In the chaotic aftermath of the darkened classroom, it took police a few moments to realize Roberts had bound the children together.

Troopers cut the ties and carried nine girls outside, some of them unconscious. They stanched the children's wounds, administered intravenous fluids and provided comfort.

"Some were obviously not going to make it, but they didn't leave them there," Miller said. "One girl who was alive, one of our troopers was with the entire time until she passed. I think her last moments were a lot better than they would have been if not for what our people did."

Roberts, a 32-year-old father of three who worked as a milk truck driver, walked into the one-room schoolhouse with a gun, ordered everyone out but the 10 girls and barricaded the building. He apparently planned to sexually assault the children.

The first troopers to respond wanted permission to enter the building, but Miller said their commander did the right thing and denied the request. Troopers then took tactical positions during a brief standoff before they heard gunfire erupt and dashed instantly to the building.

"They were heroes," Miller said. "They reacted as we would want them to. They immediately charged and tried to get into the school."

The Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pa., where a gunman shot 10 girls, killing five of them, is demolished by private contractors before dawn, in this Oct. 12, 2006, file photo. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke/FILE)
It took about 2 1/2 minutes for police to force their way into the building once the gunfire erupted, state police Sgt. Douglas Burig, who was in command during the standoff, said last month. That highlighted the need for better training and equipment to deal with barricaded gunmen, Burig said, but he added that every bullet Roberts fired came in the first eight seconds — except the one he used to kill himself.

Miller said Roberts fired a "head-high" shotgun round through the barricaded door, where three troopers were trying to enter. The round ended up getting lodged in Roberts' pickup truck, which was parked outside the school.

"If that truck wouldn't have been there, we probably would have had a trooper or troopers that were shot," Miller said. "The troopers didn't hesitate, but they kept on coming."

The teacher's split-second decision to run for help also saved lives, he said. Three other adults were at the school that day to celebrate teacher Emma Mae Zook's birthday, something that also may have caught Roberts off guard.

Zook later helped authorities identify the victims by examining photos e-mailed from the various hospitals where the girls had been taken.

"I can't say enough about her," Miller said. "For a 20-year-old young lady, she did things that we would never ask a grizzled veteran to do."

Roberts was apparently tormented by the death of an infant daughter in 1997, and had been having nightmares about molesting two young female relatives when he was much younger, a memory investigators have not substantiated.

"It's my opinion that he was intending to get back at God by sexually assaulting and executing these innocent children of God, if you will, and then taking himself out," Miller said.

Miller said he remains inspired by the grace and dignity with which the Amish have coped with the tragedy. They gave him a Bible in Pennsylvania German, and have invited him to visit with the families soon.

"I don't think I can come up with the words to describe what I saw from the Amish community," he said. "I was left in awe of how they responded, and I was hopeful that — and am still hopeful — that maybe their actions will be kind of a guide for others."

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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