The Washington Postand USA Today lead with yesterday's horrific shooting spree at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pa. As of TP's press time, four young girls were reported dead, while seven others remain hospitalized with injuries that a police official described as "very, very dire," according to the WP. The Los Angeles Times, which leads with a local story, also plays the massacre prominently. The New York Times leads with House Speaker Dennis Hastert's fumbling attempts to control the rapidly metastasizing scandal surrounding former Florida Rep. Mark Foley even as evidence emerged yesterday that the congressman may have actually arranged a rendezvous with at least one former House page. Foley developments also top the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox.
The school shooting, says the excellent LAT dispatch, "was methodical, gruesome and baffling." Around 10 a.m., a milk-truck driver named Charles Carl Roberts IV entered the schoolhouse, carrying "a shotgun, a semiautomatic pistol and a rifle, 600 rounds of ammunition, explosive powder, a stun gun, two knives, a change of clothes, and a bucket with pliers, a hacksaw and wire." He freed the school's male students, as well as several adults, including the teacher. Then he barricaded himself inside the schoolhouse with 10 female students ages 6 to 13, as well as a young teacher's aide. He tied them up facing a chalkboard, and, when police arrived, shot each of them—"execution style," says the WP—before turning the gun on himself.
Roberts' wife told police that she noticed nothing amiss with her husband yesterday morning. He worked a night shift and then, shortly before going on his shooting spree, dropped his own children off at school. The NYT, like all the papers, repeat vague reports that Roberts left behind suicide notes and was "apparently nursing a 20-year-old grudge," though the nature of his grievance was unclear. Police said the attack did not seem to be motivated by religious bigotry. Roberts "apparently was looking to take revenge on young girls," the LAT reports, and the Amish ones just happened to be convenient.
Everyone notes that this school shooting comes on the heels of similar—though far less deadly—incidents in Colorado and Wisconsin last week. Although the setting of this attack no doubt played a role in prompting the exhaustive coverage, the papers are all admirably restrained and respectful when it comes to the Amish angle, though there are plenty of beards and bonnets in the accompanying photos. The LAT, going against the easy stereotype, says that grisly violence is not totally foreign to this corner of rural Pennsylvania: This past spring, "a young man confessed to killing six of his relatives," the paper relates.
According to his lawyer, Mark Foley checked into a rehabilitation clinic yesterday for "alcoholism and related behavioral problems." In an arch aside, the NYT says several associates "did not believe Mr. Foley had a drinking problem." Meanwhile, the NYT reports that ABC, which broke the Foley story, has new transcripts of instant-message conversations between Foley and an unnamed former page. In these, it seems pretty clear that the former congressman met up with the teenager to do something. "I miss you lots since San Diego," he wrote.
Foley's retreat into treatment means that Republican leaders—and GOP candidates on the campaign trail, as the WPand WSJ detail—will be left to bear the brunt of the scandal until he re-emerges. It seems clear that Speaker Hastert is in serious political trouble. He returned to Washington yesterday to hold a series of news conferences, at which he once again said he couldn't recall hearing about Foley's email correspondence with a congressional page before the story broke last week. When asked whether House leaders could have done more to investigate Foley's behavior, Hastert replied, "Would have, could have, should have."
In an editorial today, the Washington Times, an influential voice in conservative circles, calls for Hastert's resignation.
The LAT, in a juicy—if not entirely shocking—front-page piece, says it was something of an "open secret" around Capitol Hill that Foley was very friendly to handsome young men. The NYT, in a piece inside, shows that several news organizations knew about the (relatively mild) emails between Foley and a teenage page months ago, but chose not to run with them. The story finally shook loose when the e-mails were posted on an anonymous blog, which just happened to start up the weekend before the Florida Republican primary. Hmmmm … TP suspects we'll be hearing more about that soon. (Slate'sTimothy Noah has much of the correspondence here.)
On a similar note, USAT has a timely front-pager on the burgeoning number of libel suits against bloggers. "It hasn't happened yet, but soon, there will be a blogger who is successfully sued and who loses his home," says one blogger advocate.
The WSJ, in an inside piece, says that after his convincing victory in a straw-poll vote in the Security Council yesterday, South Korean diplomat Ban Ki Moon is all but assured of being elected as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hack headline writers around the world toasted their good fortune. But seriously: Why isn't this story on anyone's front page? Has the U.N. really become that irrelevant?
In today's war news, the NYT has a nice piece on NATO's efforts to win "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan. And the LAT goes long with a feature on one Marine who singlehandedly killed 11 insurgents during the battle of Fallujah, using the incident as a jumping off point for a thoughtful examination of the nature of heroism. It's a fine piece, though after reading the story's descriptions of insurgents who "injected themselves with lidocaine, Novocain or adrenaline" to allow themselves "to fight even after receiving mortal wounds" and of the Marine killing men "at such close range he could hear the blood gurgling in their mouths and noses," a reader can't help but feel that in war nothing—even bravery—is so satisfyingly clear-cut.
Finally, below-the-fold in the NYT, there's a gripping tick-tock on the scene inside a corporate jet after it clipped a 737 in the air over Brazil's Amazonian jungle. The story describes how the plane's pilots calmly searched for a place in to make an emergency landing as passengers nervously scribbled notes to their families and stuck them in their wallets, just in case they didn't make it. Miraculously, the jet managed to find a landing strip, and everyone survived. (The 737 crashed nose-first into the jungle, and all 155 aboard died.) How did the Times manage to get such great detail? Why, its business travel columnist happened to be one of seven people on the flight, on a freelance assignment for Business Jet Traveler magazine. Lucky reporter—in more ways than one.