Nine years after her son opened fire on an Amish school, Terri Roberts talks to PEOPLE about finding joy amid the sorrow
Terri Roberts
Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein

Almost nine years ago, Terri Roberts got a call from her husband, Chuck, to come to their son’s house right away. Filled with angst, she got in her car and drove, listening to horrific news reports on the radio that a gunman had shot several girls in a local Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa. She feared for her son’s safety, he was a milkman who often parked nearby.

“All I could think was. ‘Charlie parks his milk tanker down there by the school. What if he was shot?'”

Moments later she would learn it was even worse.

“I looked at Chuck, who had the most deep, dark, sunken eyes I have ever seen, and he said, ‘It’s Charlie. He killed those girls.’ I fell to the ground and started wailing.”

Roberts, 64, hasn’t said much to the media since that tragic October day back in 2006, but now she’s opening up to PEOPLE in a tearful interview, in advance of her upcoming memoir – Forgiven – which comes out October 6.

Roberts’ son, Charlie, then 32, shot 10 schoolgirls, five of which died, before killing himself. He left behind his wife, three children, and an angry letter over losing his firstborn child after a premature birth more than ten years prior.

In trying to piece together her life and solve the mystery as to why Charlie would do what he did, Roberts talks about finding solace in the most unexpected of places – an Amish neighbor who knocked at the door and extended a welcoming hand.

“It felt like the grace of God walked in that door,” Roberts said.

Over time, Roberts would host teas and picnics for the surviving victims and develop a close bond with Rosanna, a girl her son left brain-damaged and in a wheelchair after his rampage.

Now battling a second round of breast cancer, Roberts feels it’s more important than ever to share her story of loss and forgiveness … and of finding joy amid the sorrow. “To my dying day,” she said, “I will keep telling this story.”

Reporting by NICKI EGAN

For more on Terri Roberts, Chuck, and the aftermath from their son, Charlie, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.