My 'totally normal' husband carried out a school massacre killing 5 kids – the shame and guilt is a heavy weight to bear

MARIE Monville, 43, from Pennsylvania, US, woke on October 2, 2006 believing it would be just an ordinary day. But by lunchtime, her husband had killed five schoolgirls and injured five more. Here she shares her story…

“That day began with a gorgeous autumn morning, like hundreds we’d shared before. I watched my husband Charlie, then 32, kiss our two eldest children goodbye as they climbed on to the school bus. I had no idea that within hours, five innocent children would be dead and five injured, shot by the man I loved.

I met Charlie at our local Protestant church in 1994, when I was 17 and he was 20. We both lived in a small town in rural Pennsylvania and I was immediately drawn to this quiet, gentle man who loved his family.

We married in a big white wedding in November 1996 and were thrilled when I found out I was pregnant the following spring. But our daughter was born at just 26 weeks, and her lungs were so small she lived for only 20 minutes. It was devastating. We were lucky enough to go on to have three more children: another daughter in 1999, and sons in 2001 and 2005. 

I loved our quiet life. I was a full-time mum and Charlie worked for my grandparents, delivering milk. He was a caring husband and a hands-on dad, who loved playing with the children and buying them ice cream. We both enjoyed taking them on long walks, reading to them and playing games. Though we rarely had much time as a couple, we were happy. 

Charlie would sometimes speak about his sadness over losing our first daughter. But when I asked if he wanted to talk more about it, he’d always say that men don’t talk about their feelings, and I thought that was a normal part of the grieving process.

The weekend before that awful day, we had lunch with family. The children – then seven, five and 18 months – played while we sat outside, eating and talking, with the sound of our Amish neighbours harvesting their fields in the distance. A traditional community who follow 19th century ways, they stayed largely separate from the outside world, but were always friendly when we saw them in our local area. 

The following Monday, October 2, 2006, after we waved our eldest two off to school, Charlie said he had some work to do and left. I’ve gone over that moment – and the days and weeks preceding it – again and again, wondering if I could have spotted something was wrong, but he seemed totally normal.

A few hours later, the phone rang. Hearing Charlie’s voice, I knew instantly that something was amiss. He sounded cold and lifeless and said there was something he had to do that I wouldn’t understand. Thinking he was planning to harm himself, I pleaded with him not to do it. Charlie said to tell our family that he loved them and that he’d left a letter for me on the dresser, and then he hung up.

I rushed to the dresser and found rambling pages about how much he loved me, but also the pain he felt from losing our daughter.

Certain it was a suicide note, I rang the police, and then called my mum and asked her to pick up the children from school and take them to her house. Then all I could do was wait. Around 30 minutes later, I was standing on my porch when I heard sirens and saw a helicopter overhead.

After another half an hour, the police arrived.

They told me that Charlie had driven to an Amish school a mile away, taking weapons with him.

He’d forced the boys and the teacher out, locking all 10 girls – aged just six to 13 – inside with him.

Then he shot the girls, leaving half injured and the other half dead. Finally, Charlie shot himself. 

Shock rooted me to the spot. How could the man I loved, the caring father of our children, do this? Then came waves of sadness. My heart ached thinking about the girls and their families – and my own children. 

I scrambled to get the baby in the car and drove to my parents’ house.

I told the children that Daddy had made some bad choices, that some people had died and he had died too. They were in a state of shock.

The phone rang and visitors came, and everyone wanted answers as to why Charlie had done it.

That’s when I saw a group of Amish men approach the house.

I knew this was a community facing unimaginable grief.

What would they ask me, and what could I tell them?

My dad met them outside, and I saw one of the men put his hand on his shoulder. They were all crying as they embraced.

Back inside, Dad explained that they’d come out of concern for me and the children. They wanted me to know that they’d forgiven Charlie and were extending compassion to us all. 

I was overwhelmed by their kindness.

In the months that followed, I spoke to several of the victims’ families and visited one of the injured girls in hospital.

Her parents said they thought about me at night because when they’d had a hard day, they had each other, but I ‘didn’t have anyone’.

I couldn’t believe that they were thinking of me after what had happened. 

Being the family of a perpetrator means bearing a heavy weight of shame and guilt.

You ask yourself endlessly: ‘Should I have seen something?’ and ‘Could I have known?’

Living in a small town, there were stares and whispers everywhere I went.

One morning, a stranger knocked on my door and sternly asked how could I not have known what Charlie was going to do. It was so hard.

But the love and support from my family – and the Amish community – helped, and I focused on what my children needed, as well as what the Amish had done for us.

I also had counselling. I talked through the loss of our first daughter and the way Charlie dealt with that, and then the events at the schoolhouse.

Hearing my psychologist’s view – that Charlie had likely had a psychotic breakdown from well-hidden depression – was a help.

I knew I couldn’t let anger have that hold on me, too, and that it was crucial to find forgiveness for Charlie and to start rebuilding my life. 

At church the following January, I met Dan, 53, a kind, considerate man who was supportive, knowing what the children and I had been through.

We fell in love and married just a few months later that May.

When we moved to our new house not far from my old place after the wedding, I took two things with me: a rosebush Charlie had bought for our garden and the letter he’d written me that day.

I know it seems strange, but in order to capture the beauty of the present and the hopes for the future, you have to remember the terrible places you’ve been. 

We still see the Amish community in our local area. Of the girls who were injured in the shooting, one suffered brain damage, and although she hasn’t made a full recovery, she seems to have done better than doctors predicted. 

It may have been almost 15 years ago, but I will never forget the events of that day. Just as I will never forget the compassion the Amish community showed me and my family. It has changed me forever.” 

Photography: Getty Images, Polaris/Eyevine, Marie Monville – One Light Still Shines by Marie Monville is out now.

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