Many people associate love and forgiveness as a feeling. Both can make a person feel things they may or may not have ever felt before, but neither are feelings or emotions.
They are choices as one mother who can explain it best through her experience. Terri Roberts’ life changed forever on October 2, 2006, when her son Charlie did the unthinkable. He tied up ten young Amish girls inside a schoolhouse and shot all of them then turning the gun on himself, taking his own life.
Terri explains she was having a nice, quiet dinner with her son and his family the day before the horrific act of violence. She only noticed her son was “quieter than usual,” but nothing else was out of the ordinary.
No parent could fathom the events that were going to happen the very next day. Terri received the terrible news that her son committed suicide after shooting the young 10 Amish girls within the Amish schoolhouse.
Charlie had kept the girls’ hostage by tieing them up before opening fire. Five of the girls died from the gunshot wounds while the other five miraculously lived through the living nightmare. Terri’s safe haven home in Pennsylvania came crashing down along with the Amish community that surrounded them. The community along with all the families involved were shattered by the act of Terri’s son Charlie.
After returning home from hearing the devastating news of what their son had done, the anguish and horror had just started to sink in. Terri said she began doubting herself, God, and her son.
She felt terrible about the girls and their families, but as a parent fears, there is no greater pain than losing a child. To have a child do the unthinkable and to go to that extreme, only added to the misery Terri and her husband Chuck was feeling. People express themselves differently in different tragedies, and Terri and her husband were about to experience love and forgiveness at its finest.
Terri sat down in an interview with Esquire and she stated, “As we sat and sobbed, I looked through our window and caught sight of a stalwart figure dressed in black. It was our neighbor Henry Stoltzfoos, whom we’d known for years. He is an Amishman and was dressed in his formal visiting attire and wide-brimmed straw hat. Striding up to the front door, Henry knocked. Mind you, Henry had friends and relatives whose daughters had died in that schoolhouse, at the hands of our son. Like all the Amish, he had every reason to hate us.”
“But as I opened the door, I saw that Henry didn’t look angry. Instead, compassion radiated from his face. Walking over to Chuck, he put one hand on his shoulder. The first words I heard him speak took my breath away, ‘Roberts, we love you. This was not your doing. You must not blame yourself.’
Henry Stoltzfoos went on to say that he believed the devil had used their son and that the Amish community would forgive them.
Terri said she did not have any words and was confused because she could not find it in her heart at the time to forgive her son for killing the girls and himself. She could only feel the empty hole left by the tragedy, and she asked herself, “How could the parents of the slain children find it in them to not only forgive her son but her son’s entire family as well?”
What caught her off guard, even more, was not what the Amish community had said in love and forgiveness but how they showed it to her and her family. The Amish community had given part of the money raised for the victims to Charlie’s family who was left behind without a husband and a father.
Zach, Charlie’s brother, wanted nothing to do with Charlie’s funeral and did not show up. One of the Amish fathers who lost his daughter in the shooting decided to break the Amish protocol to call Zach and try to convince him to show up for his brother’s funeral. Zach attended after receiving the phone call from the Amish father.
Terri found the peace she needed to heal after Charlie’s funeral when she experienced the profound love and forgiveness from the Amish community and from the families of those who were slain. She now spreads the message with the Amish, “Love and Forgiveness are a choice.”