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'I can't get it out of my head'

By Bradley Olson

Sun Reporter

October 4, 2006

PARADISE, Pa.

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Bobbi Roschel heard the first call for help crackle across her scanner about 10:30 Monday morning. An emotionally disturbed man was on the school grounds in Nickel Mines, in Lancaster County's Pennsylvania Dutch country.

The description didn't hint at what awaited Roschel and her husband, emergency medical technicians who raced to the school in their private truck. In the yard, 75 yards from the school, were 10 small girls, some dead, some dying, some hanging on to life. Their traditional Amish outfits were splashed with red.

One of the girls, considered lucky only in the context of Monday morning's attack, was conscious.

"She looked confused, horrified," Roschel said.

It was obvious that the girl would survive. Training told Roschel to move on to others in more need of help. But memories of growing up among the Amish in rural Lancaster County and seeing the girl so frightened made her pause to offer a bit of comfort and a piece of gauze to wipe blood from her chin.

When Roschel moved on, she saw that all but two of the girls were alive, despite having been shot in the back of the head at point-blank range.

Roschel recalled in an interview from her home just northwest of Nickel Mines that she moved next to a girl who appeared to be 7, maybe 8. Head wound. Trouble breathing. A state trooper begged her to hang on. Roschel rubbed the girl's sternum.

Her eyes opened, but they had no focus, no movement.

Then the girl began to let out a sound like a muted crying, and Roschel and the trooper continued to encourage her to keep her eyes open, to breathe, honey, breathe. They put a collar around her neck, rolled her onto a board and put her into an ambulance, which carried her away.

Roschel has no idea whether she was one of the girls who survived.

The images will always be with her, Roschel knows: the little white bonnet, bloody, on the ground with a hole in it; the stained white shirt of a state trooper who had carried a girl out of the school; the slender face and blond hair of a girl who lay dead, away from the rest, the only girl placed on her stomach.

The girl's feet were still bound by plastic handcuffs, and Roschel was taken aback because her legs had been crossed, allowing a tighter, more secure grip.

"I just thought he would have been in more of a hurry and wouldn't have thought about things like that," she said. "I can't get it out of my head. It just disgusts me."

Roschel went over to look at the girl, and police asked her not to move the body. As she stood over the girl, someone asked her whether she needed a body bag.

"I didn't want to take a child off a schoolyard in a body bag, so we just put a blanket there," she said.

Once all of the girls had been picked up by ambulances or helicopters, Roschel helped clean up equipment and needles, then went to the local fire station to be debriefed. Several counselors were on hand.

Roschel and her husband got home at 5 p.m. that evening. She had lost track of time.

She cleaned herself up and put her clothes, stained with the blood of the girls, on her front porch. She didn't know what else to do with them.

Yesterday, Roschel went to a doctor and got medicine to help her sleep. She drove around town, talking to people who would listen and stopping at a few churches to pray.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com