(Photo: Kris Giacobbe & Terri Roberts)
Charles Roberts walked into the one-room West Nickel Mines School in Bart Township, Pa., on Oct. 2, 2006, and lined up the 10 girls in the Amish classroom and shot each one before taking his own life. Five of the girls died and the other five were severely wounded. The gunman also left behind a horrified and saddened family -- 28-year-old-wife, Marie, and their three children, who were all younger than 8.
Seven years later, Marie Monville's life "has experienced a lot of healing and wholeness from the Lord." She currently lives with her second husband and their children in central Pennsylvania, where the stay-at-home mom recently authored One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting, which details her story in the aftermath of the shooting and the role her faith played in her healing process.
Monville, who in the years following the shooting shared her story at conferences and retreats, said that she wrote the book to allow others to take encouragement and support from her own story of suffering and healing.
"The point of me writing my story [is to connect] other people to the love of God so that if they are currently facing difficult situations or if things arise in their life, they will be to take encouragement from what I've found and that being the hope and the love of God," she told The Christian Post.
Monville believed that her faith and life experiences had helped prepare her for the events of Oct. 2. Raised in a Christian home, Monville recalled the growth of her own faith when she and Roberts suffered the loss of their first daughter, who was born three months premature and died 20 minutes after being born.
"I grew up in a Christian home and had developed love for the Lord and times of definite connection with him, especially with the difficult circumstances I had faced prior to this, like the loss of my first daughter, didn't shake my faith but I think really made my faith deeper and stronger," she said.
On the day of the shooting, Monville said she knew that she could either choose to accept or reject everything that she had learned about God up to that point.
"I knew I could either choose to believe that everything I had ever read in the pages of the Word and heard about the Lord were true and somehow he was going to come and rescue our family or I could choose to believe that we were going down like the fastest sinking ship," said Monville.
"While I couldn't figure out how God was going to come to rescue us or what he was going to do in my life, I knew that he loved me, and I knew I had nothing to lose by trusting the Lord," she added.
Part of the family's restoration ultimately came from the very community that Monville's husband had gone after: the Amish. Monville, who grew up in Lancaster County in central Pennsylvania and who had interacted with the Amish commercially over the years and was familiar with the groups' convictions and beliefs, was still blown away when she saw several of the Amish men comforting her father on her family's driveway, just hours after the shooting.
"They had their hands on his shoulder and wrapped their arms around him, and said they had forgiven Charlie and were extending grace and compassion onto our family," she said.
The Amish proved themselves capable of comforting and relating to Monville's pain in a way she found from no other community or individual.
"There were several families that had said to me, 'You know, at the end of the day, we have our spouse, we have each other to lie in each other's arms and cry but you don't have anyone. And we think about you when you go to bed at night and you're all alone'," Monville said.
"And that was the most profound thing that someone ever said to me, that they were able to see the really intimate places of my heart and the pain that I endured and to know that they were thinking about me at the end of the day and what my life looked like was really amazing," she added.
The Amish were not the only ones that reached out. Local community members stopped by to bring Monville and her family meals, drop off cookies or to see if they could pick anything up from the grocery store for her.
"And in a wider way we were surrounded by people from the state and our country and even all over the world by the cards and letters that were sent us. I would go to the mailbox every day and come home with a crate of mail from the postmaster and people were just wanting to express their concern for our family and the way that they were praying for us," said Monville.
"There was such a precedent set by the Amish community and the way that they reached out to our family—the world just kind of followed their lead," she added.
One of these goodwill gestures was how Monville met her second husband, Dan, who wanted his Sunday school class to present her and her children with gifts.
After they met, Monville was initially conflicted about whether she should enter into another relationship so soon. Yet she felt confirmation from God that this was the right decision and she and Dan ultimately married just seven months after the shooting, in May 2007.
"We have five kids between the two of us. They range in age currently from 8 to 21," said Monville. "It's really just been beautiful the way that God has blended us all together. That it's not just about my kids needing a dad or me needing a husband but that God brought us all together to complement one another and support one another and I'm so blessed by the family that God has surrounded me with."