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October 18- 28, 2006

Alters and Memories

Opening Reception:  Thursday, Oct. 19, 5:30-7:30PM   

Amalie Rothschild Gallery

the Creative Alliance @ the Patterson

3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore, MD


The use of art as a form of remembrance is among its most ancient and primary functions. Similarly, the instinct to gather objects that recall a loved one to create a space that’s both sacred and safe, is universal. In preparation for Mexico’s Day of the Dead, we [the Creative Alliance] display the results of a series of workshops with both children and adults led by artist/art therapist Hilary Christian, offering participants a chance to make an altar or 3-D artwork honoring an influential person they have known personally.


At 3 a.m., Monday morning, Oct. 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV arrived home after finishing his milk run in Lancaster County, PA picking up milk from the local Amish farms. He took a nap and then helped his wife ready their children for school. Roberts walked his children to the bus stop and then around 10 a.m. he drove to the nearby West Nickel Mines Amish School. He instructed the 15 boys in the school to carry lumber and other items into the school from his truck. He then released the boys and 4 adults. The adults ran for help while the boys huddled in a meadow. Roberts instructed the ten girls to line up in front of the chalk board where he bound their legs. Roberts used the lumber to obstruct the doors and windows to the school.

Experts speculate that Roberts, who was not Amish, chose the Amish school since it was extremely easy to enter and it had no telephone. Charles Roberts asked the girls to pray for him, believing that they held a direct connection with God. The girls asked Roberts why he was doing this and he responded that he was angry with God. One of the girls, Marian Fisher, appealed to Roberts to shoot her first and allow the younger girls to leave. 

Just after 11 a.m., Charles Roberts told a dispatcher he would open fire on the children if police didn't back away from the building. Within seconds, troopers heard gunfire inside. Roberts shot all 10 girls aged 6 to 13. Three of the girls died at the scene. Roberts, who had come armed with a shotgun, a handgun and a stun gun, then killed himself. Two girls who were sisters died in the hospital. A sixth girl has been taken off life support and is in grave condition. The other four surviving girls remain hospitalized.

Roberts' suicide notes and last calls with his wife reveal a man tormented by memories -- so far unsubstantiated -- of molesting two young relatives 20 years ago. He said he was also angry at God for the November 14, 1997, death of the couple's first child, a girl named Elise Victoria who lived for just 20 minutes.

The Amish, descendants of Swiss-German settlers, are a traditionalist Christian denomination who place particular importance on the Gospel message of forgiveness. They believe in nonviolence, simple living and little contact with the modern world choosing to live an insular, agrarian way of life, shunning cars, electricity and other modern conveniences.

On Monday evening, the same day as the shooting occurred, members of the Amish community knocked on the door of Marie Roberts, the shooter’s wife, to offer their forgiveness. Their explanation was that Christ has forgiven them and if they do not forgive Charles Roberts, they are then rejecting Christ’s own forgiveness.

In an age when reference to fundamentalism in any religion conjures images of aggression, violence, retribution and hypocritical posturing, members of this community have chosen to live the peaceful message that they believe. 

It is sad irony that the world would never have received their quiet message if not for this tragic event since the Amish do not proselytize and believe in removing themselves from “the world”. It is also ironic that the positive media attention will never be witnessed by this community since T.V. is a modern convenience which is shunned by them.

The funerals for the five slain were held Thursday and Friday. Carl Roberts IV was buried on Saturday. About half of perhaps 75 mourners on hand for Roberts’ funeral were Amish. 

This alter is dedicated to Marian Fisher, aged 13; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, aged 12; Naomi Rose Ebersol, aged 7, and sisters Mary Liz Miller, aged 8, and Lena Miller, aged 7 as well as to the five surviving girls and to the Amish community whose example to the world is a shining flicker of light in the midst of a very dark age.

About the alter:
This tribute honors the Amish tradition so it does not feature any photographs. The floor of the “schoolhouse” is a continuation of the rural farmland outside, representing the beliefs of those within extending to their lives beyond the school. The “schoolhouse” also suggests the traditional white bonnet of the Amish girls and women. It is constructed of triangles which are an ancient symbol for the female reminding us that this was a hate crime against women. According to the coroner the actual inscription on the chalk board that day was “Visitors bring joy to our school.” It has simply been replaced with the teaching to forgive.

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