Marie Monville used the have a different name: Marie Roberts. She was the milkman’s daughter, a 28-year-old married mother-of-three whose church friends were so familiar they seemed almost family.
She used to have a different life.
After growing up in an idyllic rural setting in Georgetown, Penn.—a Christian girl in Amish country—Monville says she could hardly recognize herself in the title that was suddenly being used to describe her: “The shooter’s wife.”
One thing that didn’t change for Monville the day, seven years ago today, that her husband Charlie walked into an Amish schoolhouse and then bound and shot 10 school girls, killing five of them and then killing himself: her sense of God’s presence, not only in the everyday and mundane, but also in the depths of unfathomable despair.
What emerges in reading Monville’s just-published account of coping with her husband’s killing spree and its aftermath is a woman who didn’t just cling to God in the shadow of tragedy, but someone who spent her entire life unknowingly preparing for the wreckage she would have to face.
“I don’t think it was anything I was able to recognize in the moment but in the time since, I could really tell that all of my life had brought to that point and prepared me for that place,” Monville says. “It was if all of that investment that had gone into me either in time I had spent praying or reading the Bible or just in church or conversations with friends about the Lord about things they were seeing him do in their life. It was as if all of those things came together in that moment, and solidified into one statement of faith and great belief for me that’s carried me through the rest of my journey.”
In first a United Methodist Church and then High View Church of God, where she married Charlie after a wedding proposal that came during her senior year of high school, Monville found God. Faith was a priority to her, but it was also something she worked to cultivate. She saw signs of God’s presence all around.
Monville didn’t see the signs of her husband’s impending act of brutality, at least not at the time. She didn’t think Charlie was capable of it. Looking back, she says she recognizes a man in pain, one who was “very reluctant” to meet with a counselor or a pastor to discuss the events that inflicted lasting trauma on them both.
When their first child, Elise, died after being born three months premature, Monville says, she thought “I hope this is the hardest thing I ever have to go through.”
“I definitely think there was a disconnect between Charlie and the love of God.” Monville says that Elise’s death and a subsequent ectopic pregnancy left Charlie with wounds he was unable to heal. Counselors later told her that Charlie likely suffered from deep depression and a “psychotic break,” but Monville writes in her book that her husband didn’t like to talk about his feelings.
The faith story that has so often been told about the Amish school shooting on Oct. 2, 2006, is a near-mythical one: The true account about how the families of the Amish girls came to embrace her, forgive her husband, and stand by her family in the media scrutiny that followed.
“They wanted us to know that they had forgiven Charlie and that was such a release from the weight of having to give an explanation of his actions,” she says.
Outside Charlie’s funeral, held at the same church in which they married and worshipped, there was a “wall of Amish people,” what she came to call “a wall of grace.”
With the full glare of international media literally pointed at her and her children as they drove from the funeral service towards Charlie’s burial site, Monville writes what she suddenly recognized amid the sea of men and women in black hats and bonnets standing between their car and the cameras, their backs to the media as to avoid their faces being photographed: “They were shielding us! The Amish were shielding the family of Charlie Roberts.”
“They live compassion and they live grace and they live love,” she says. “They just do it so seemingly effortlessly, but it’s a choice that they make.”
It’s heartbreaking for Monville every time she hears about another act of senseless gun violence. “It takes me back to that moment and it takes me back there to what the families that are affected by this are feeling. It very much causes my heart to cry out for them and to pray for them, and to pray for all of the families involved on both sides whether they were victims of the act itself or family that’s left to answer for the person that was holding the gun. I don’t have any answers for mental health issues except to say that it’s a problem in America. I think that speaks for itself.”
“I think any time we’re going through difficult circumstances it’s so key to have a really fabulous support system around you, people that are investing themselves in the place that you’re at. For me, I asked Charlie to talk about it with other people and that wasn’t something he felt comfortable doing. For other people that are in the same situation as me, maybe they’ve suggested to a family member to get help, it’s very hard if they don’t want to do that. You can’t force someone to talk about something. Anything dealing with mental health issues is a very complicated situation.”
Today, Monville is a remarried stay-at-home mother—albeit one with an unusually shocking past and a blossoming personal ministry. In recent years, she’s become a speaker at churches and Christian women’s conferences, and she maintains a blog in which she writes about her faith.
Her daily activities are once again inspired by her lasting desire to live everyday holiness. Today, living her values means “doing a lot of laundry, driving people to extracurricular activities, helping out at school and doing the things that I love.”
Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik.