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The Amish:

The massacre of six innocents: 2006-OCT-03

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Sponsored link.

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The horrific events:

Ten girls were shot in an Amish school at Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on 2006-OCT-03 by a lone gunman.

Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, a milk delivery person from Bart Township, PA, entered a Old Order Amish one-room school at about 10 AM, carrying a 9 mm handgun, a 12 gauge shotgun, a rifle, a bag of black powder, two knives, tools, a stun gun, 600 rounds of ammunition, KY sexual lubricant, wire, and plastic ties. Perhaps anticipating a long siege, he also brought a change of clothing. He ushered 15 boys, one pregnant woman, and three other women with infants from the school. He bound 11 students who remained -- all girls, aged 6 to 15 -- with plastic flex ties, and prepared to shoot them. Student Marian Fisher, 13, stepped forward and asked that he "shoot me first." in an apparent effort to buy time for the remaining students. Her younger sister, Barbie, allegedly asked Roberts to "shoot me second."  He shot ten young girls. Three died immediately; two others died in hospital by the next morning. As of 2006-OCT-05, the remaining five are still alive in hospital, although one is expected to be taken off of life support. Roberts committed suicide when the police stormed the school.

Police believe that he did not have a grudge against the Amish community itself. Rather, he selected the school because of its lack of security and easy availability to young female students. 1

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Roberts' motivation:

According to Pennsylvania police, Roberts phoned his wife from within the school house before he murdered the children. Ironically, his wife was leading a prayer group at the time that was organized to pray for school children in their community. He said that he had molested two female relatives who were 3 to 5 years of age circa 1986. He would have been 11 or 12 years of age at the time. A suicide note that Roberts left behind allegedly said that he was fanaticizing about molesting children again. It also expressed anger at God because his newborn baby, Elise, had died nine years ago -- only 20 minutes after having been born prematurely.

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Exhibition of compassion:

bulletCNN reported on the day of the shooting:

"Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, said local people were trying to follow Jesus' teachings in dealing with the 'terrible hurt'."

"I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts." 2

bulletSojourners reported the next day that an unnamed Amish neighbor embraced the father of Charles Roberts and said "We will forgive you." 3
bulletRobert's widow was invited to attend one of the funerals. It is not known whether she went.
bulletColumnist Rod Dreher wrote:

"Yesterday on NBC News, I saw an Amish midwife who had helped birth several of the girls murdered by the killer say that they were planning to take food over to his family's house. She said – and I paraphrase closely – 'This is possible if you have Christ in your heart'."

bulletJournalist Tom Shachtman, author of the book "Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish," said:

"This is imitation of Christ at its most naked. If anybody is going to turn the other cheek in our society, it's going to be the Amish. ... I don’t want to denigrate anybody else who says they're imitating Christ, but the Amish walk the walk as much as they talk the talk."

bulletGertrude Huntington, a specialist on Amish children, said:

"They know their children are going to heaven. They know their children are innocent ... and they know that they will join them in death. The hurt is very great ... But they don't balance the hurt with hate."

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Fundraising for the community:

bulletMembers of the community have established two funds:
bulletNickel Mines Children's Fund for the families of the victims, and
bulletRoberts Family Fund for the surviving members of Roberts' family -- his wife and two young children.

Both are being administered through the Coatesville Savings Bank. 4 It is worth noting that the Amish do not have health insurance. The Amish community fund their own health care needs. However, with the magnitude of the needs of the five wounded girls who survived this tragedy, their fund may well be depleted.

bulletThe Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) are accepting financial contributions to assist the Amish community. They have created the Amish School Recovery Fund. Tax-deductible donations can be made by calling MCC at (717) 859-1151, or MDS at (717) 859-2210. To donate online, go to the MDS or MCC web site. To donate by mail, send checks to MCC or MDS at the following addresses with the words "Amish School Recovery Fund" in the memo line.
bulletMennonite Disaster Service, 1018 Main Street, Akron , PA 17501, or
bulletMennonite Central Committee, 21 S. 12th St., P.O. Box 500, Akron , PA 17501

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Prayer Vigil:

More than 1,000 mourners attended a prayer vigil at The Worship Center in Lancaster PA on the evening of OCT-03. An overflow crowd watched the service on closed-circuit TV.  Rev. Duane Britton, pastor of Dove Christian Fellowship — Westgate in Ephrata, PA joined other clergypersons in the county to deliver the service. Lancaster Online reports:

"During the service, which lasted just over an hour, heads were bowed and tears flowed for the loss of schoolgirls’ tender lives and for their killer, a man described as a loving husband and father of three young children."

" 'We come here tonight as a grieving community,' said Sam Smucker, a pastor and founder of The Worship Center and himself a former Amish man."

" 'We’ve come here to pray and proclaim the lordship of Christ and to put our arms around each other and the community ... God hears our prayers,' he assured his listeners." 5

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Groups exploiting the tragedy:

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The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an unaffiliated Baptist congregation who base much of their belief system on the principle that God hates homosexuals.  They sponsor the GodHatesFags.com web site, and teach that most of the world's ills are caused by the increased acceptance and tolerance of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. They advocate the re-criminalization of same-sex sexual behavior, and advocate the death penalty as the appropriate, Bible-based punishment. According to Wikipedia, there are strong suggestions in the church teachings of racial bigotry, and religious hatred directed against Roman Catholics, Mormons, liberal Christians, Muslims, and Jews. In recent months, the WBC has regularly disturbed mourners by picketing funerals of service persons killed in Iraq. They believe that the deaths are God's judgment on America. 6

The WBC had planned to picket the funerals of the Amish children. They said that they were planning to take this action  "... in punishment for Gov. Ed. Rendell's blasphemous sins against the WBC. ... [He] slandered and mocked and ridiculed and condemned Westboro Baptist Church on national Fox TV." However, OCT-04, they cancelled the picketing because they were able to arrange to have a WBC spokesperson featured on the Mike Gallagher Show on OCT-05. 7

bulletThe Family Research Council's (FRC) Washington Update newsletter for OCT-04 discussed the reaction of Janice Ballenger to the school tragedy. As deputy coroner, she had shown extreme distress before TV cameras after having spent hours at the school analyzing the scene of the suicide and quintuple murder. She later went to a church in Paradise, PA and sat at the gap in the alter rail with her head buried in her arms. The FRC stated:

"How long will it take the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to file suit against Ballenger for breaching the 'high wall of separation' they claim (wrongly) that the Constitution requires. Yet no matter what they say, nothing will deter Americans--even government employees--from leaning on their faith in God as a principal source of comfort in times of tragedy. On this point, most Americans have more in common with the Amish than with the ACLU.

We are aware of numerous lawsuits by both the ACLU and Americans United to protect freedom of religious expression -- for example the right of students to pray on the school bus, at the flagpole, in the corridors, in the classroom before or after classes, in the cafeteria, in Bible clubs, etc. It is inconceivable that the ACLU or Americans United would attempt to prevent a government employee from taking a few minutes medical leave. They would certainly support anyone's right to seek peace in a church sanctuary.

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Impact on students elsewhere in North America:

Teaching Tolerance, a program of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL, interviewed Tamika Payne,  about recent school shootings, gender and violence. She is the executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Reports of shootings in Bailey, CO, and Nickel Mines, PA indicate that the gunmen isolated female students as victims.

Tamika Payne said, in part:

"The tactic reinforces the message young girls in our society receive, which is that they need to fear men, especially men who are strangers. As for male students, the incidents will likely generate a sense of protectiveness and guilt. It is important that educators and parents validate students' feelings and normalize other feelings they may be having regarding the assaults."

She suggested that teachers and parents should discuss sexual violence with all children, both male and female. It should be done realistically, stressing that a person's greatest risk is from someone we know. She said:

"... the reduction of sexual violence will occur only when we change the beliefs and attitudes of a society that sees women as unequal and sexual objects."

The full interview is well worth reading. 8

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A book about the tragedy:

Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher have co-authored a book, "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy." Jossey-Bass, (2007-SEP)

Some reviews:

bulletThe authors ... analyze the complexities of mainstream America's response and the extent to which the Amish example can be applied elsewhere. This intelligent, compassionate and hopeful book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on forgiveness. Publishers Weekly
bullet"A story our polarized country needs to hear: It is still grace that saves."--Bill Moyers, Public Affairs Television
bullet"A story of forgiveness informed by deep faith, rooted in a rich history, and practiced in real life. Amish Grace is a powerful example of the better way taught by Jesus."--Jim Wallis, author, God’s Politics and president of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.
bullet"In a world where repaying evil with evil is almost second nature, the Amish remind us there's a better way. In plain and beautiful prose, Amish Grace recounts the Amish witness and connects it to the heart of their spirituality."--Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking
bullet"An inside look at a series of events that showed the world what Christ-like forgiveness is all about … a story of the love of God lived out in the face of tragedy."--Tony Campolo, Eastern University
bullet"A casebook on forgiveness valuable for ALL Christians. It drills beneath the theory to their practice and even deeper to the instructions of Jesus." —Dr. Julia Upton, provost, St. John's University

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Sponsored links:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Tim Harper, "Amish school murders," Toronto Star, 2006-OCT-03.
  2. "Police: School killer told wife he molested family members," CNn.com, 2006-OCT-03, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  3. "Quote of the week," SojoMail, 2006-OCT-04.
  4. "Coatesville Savings Bank," at: http://www.coatesvillesavings.com/
  5. Joan Kern, "A community cries," Lancaster Online, 2006-OCT-04, at: http://local.lancasteronline.com/
  6. "Westboro Baptist Church," Wikipedia, as at: 2006-OCT-04
  7. "News Release (OCT. 3)" Westboro Baptist Church, at: http://www.godhatesfags.com/
  8. "Girls as targets: Recent school shootings," Teaching Tolerance, 2006-OCT-06, at: http://www.tolerance.org/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-OCT-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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