Where in the ranks of humanity does one come across a man who could bind such a young child, force her to stand in front of a blackboard in her classroom, point the muzzle of a gun at hear head, and shoot her dead?
The Amish are not a caricature of a people. They are a people who, while the rest of us have grown soft and complacent, continue to embody all of those time-honored character traits that the American pioneers mustered from within in order to build the most decent, moral, prosperous civilization in the history of mankind.
The Amish are God-fearing, honest, simple, rugged, hard-working, courageous people who are unyielding in their religious and lifestyle beliefs, and who are not subject to the winds of fleeting trends or political correctness.
They have not fallen prey to the superficial, materialistic mindset that so often permeates so much of modern American thought. The love of God, devotion to family, and the belief that hard work is its own reward, are, and always will be, the cornerstone of Amish culture.
They are not a covetous people, nor are they a violent people. They believe that, within the will of God, one reaps what one sows. So today’s tragedy in southern Lancaster County will be interpreted as God’s will. And the Amish know that we humans do not always comprehend the reasons behind such seemingly senseless tragedies. But they will turn to the Lord for answers, and for the strength and comfort that only He can provide them now.
Those newscasters that I have heard today speaking about the need for more stringent school security measures, and the fact that counsellors and adivsors will be on hand for the victims and their families, are all speaking from their own vantage point … a shallow perspective that is entirely foreign to Amish culture.
As heartbreaking as today’s murders are, the Amish of Bart Township will not now begin planning how better to physically secure their little schoolhouses. Nor will they be seeking out ‘professional help’ in order to make their grief bearable. Instead, their needs for security, solace and a listening ear will be met within their own small community, and as they communally turn to the Lord as their infallible source of wisdom, comfort and strength.
We all need to remember in prayer the families of the victims and survivors of today’s tragedy, as well as the family of the man who caused this unspeakable heartbreak. All are innocents whose lives will never be the same, and all are in need of our prayers.
Addendum, 4 October, 2006:
Because the Amish consider the creation of personal images or photographs by themselves to be hochmut (proud), no photographs are in existence of the five little girls who have died. But these are their names and ages. I hope that many of us will offer up a special prayer for them, as well as the young girls who are still fighting for their lives in area hospitals, and their grieving families, over the next few days and weeks:
Addendum, 5 October, 2006:
Addendum, 8 October, 2006:
Several of you have asked me to keep you updated on events in Lancaster County that might not be being made public in national news reports.
First of all, thank you so much for your interest in the aftermath of Monday’s tragedy. The outpouring of interest and concern that I (simply as a resident of Lancaster County, and not even directly involved in the tragedy) have received has been so uplifting.
So often, when a tragedy occurs within a community, the usual ‘I will be praying for the victims’ response is engendered. I have often wondered how many people who voice such general concern truly do set aside a few minutes of their day to acutally pray for the people who are personally involved in the tragedy. I suspect that the assurance ‘I will be praying’ is voiced more often than it is actually fulfilled.
But the tragedy at the Nickel Mines schoolhouse appears to have evoked an entirely different, much more deeply personal, response. As I said before, I have only been involved in this tragedy by the fact that I live within twenty-five miles of the little schoolhouse. I know many Amish families, but none of them are related to the victims of this week’s tragedy. Yet I have received countless inquiries from friends and acquaintances throughout the country, genuinely wanting to know how our area … and the Amish community in particular … is coping with the tragedy. And the concern is not a voyeuristic one. The concern is genuine and heartfelt, with many requests as to how to best send financial help to the victims and their families … and sincere assurances that heartfelt prayers are being offered in their behalf.
And I believe that the prayers of millions of believers around the world have represented the single most powerful reason that the uplift and affirmation that has occurred in the aftermath of the tragedy has somehow overshadowed the tragedy itself.
Islamic fascists would do well to take note of the fact that a humble, forgiving, Christ-centered response to tragedy has unspoken, yet powerful and lasting, spiritual repercussions on all who are affected by, and witness to, that response.
I have posted several times on the tragedy over the past six days. I want to post some final summarized thoughts here, so forgive any repetition:
In the six days that have elapsed since last Monday’s tragic shootings, Lancaster County has experienced an awakening of sorts. Lancaster Countians feel strangely somehow violated – as if the more often urban-centered crime and depravity has dared to make its way into our peaceful rural community. In this way, our neighborhoods have found themselves awakened to a dangerous pride-related fault. We have been unintentionally operating under the mistaken and prideful assumption that we are somehow immune to, and shielded from (sitting somehow above), the violence and dangers that have always been much more a part of urban, metropolitan life.
That prideful perception was shattered this week. Even if there were no other ‘silver lining’ in this week’s cloud, this awakening will, in hindsight, prove to be a hugely beneficial one. It has knocked us off of our self-created pedestal. That is not to say that our rural Pennsylvania neighborhoods should become paranoid or cynical … or that we should barricade ourselves from, or fortify ourselves against intrusion from, the 'outside world'. Not at all. It has simply taught us that we ought not consider ourselves somehow immune to the dangers that lurk (Pride brings destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall).
A few recent observations that I’m not sure may have been widely reported outside of our local area (again, apologies for any repetition):
Rosanna King, a six-year-old victim of Monday’s shootings, had been hospitalized at Hershey Medical Center since Monday morning. She had been non-responsive since being shot, and it was determined that her injuries were going to prove fatal, so her family chose to remove her from life support on Wednesday. They brought her home so that she might spend her final hours or days with her family, and amid familiar surroundings.
Shortly after being brought home, with family members always by her side, she showed some recognition of several of them, and began squeezing the hands of some of them, in response to their attempts at gentle conversation.
The family saw this response as a sign that she should continue to receive medical attention, unless and until it appears that man’s efforts to keep Rosanna alive are over-riding the Lord’s intentions to take her to her heavenly home, and she has been returned to Hershey Medical Center.
Fund-raising activities have abounded throughout Lancaster County this past week. Dozens, if not hundrends, of chicken barbecues, clambakes, auctions, car washes, etc. have been scheduled in order to raise money for the victims and their families. And virtually all of these events have been attended in overwhelming numbers, with strong support (in terms of donating supplies and manpower) from area businesses.
In one such event – a chicken barbecue to be held in Paradise – the event organizer had planned to barbecue 500 chickens. But the demand has been so large that he has had to increase that number to 3,000. Local businesses have contributed supplies (paper plates, plastic knives and spoons, charcoal, etc.), desserts, tables, chairs, etc. It is estimated that this single event could result in a $20,000 contribution to the Nickel Mines fund. The Amish community has requested that one-quarter of the proceeds be given to the wife and children of Charles Roberts.
On Monday morning, Little Marian Fisher asked her executioner to ‘Kill me first!’ because she believed that such a request might somehow allow her smaller classmates to escape. A thirteen-year-old Amish girl, knowing that she had only moments to live, exhibited as much genuine heroism and selflessness as any ‘hero’ we have come to adulate and admire. May we all learn, and seek inspiration, from the Christian example of this humble young girl who was willing to be martyred for her smaller classmates.
The West Nickel Mines School has been boarded up, is scheduled for eventual demolition, and a new school will be built elsewhere in the township.
The following is a letter to the editor that appeared in our local Sunday newspaper this morning:
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As a member of the Amish community, I wish to say thank you for the overwhelming support so many people have shown to us over this week.
While the events in Nickel Mines this past week have been tragic, the generous response of the larger community and the world has been overwhelming. Our perceptions of ‘worldly’ and ‘outsiders’ have been challenged and changed. It has been reaffirmed to us that there is much good in the rest of the world. It is reassuring that, in spite of our different identities, we can still reach out to each other as human brothers and sisters with the same hopes, fears, desires and feelings in difficult times.
I know I speak for the rest of the Amish community when I say that we wish to show our appreciation and express our gratitude for all of the bountiful support and prayers we have received. Thanks to all the police officials and emergency teams for their efforts and bravery. And thanks to everyone for their their acts of kindness, prayers and goodwill.
We also wish to extend our condolences and prayers to the Roberts and Welk families. I wish yet to say that with God all things are possible and that in heaven the lion and the lamb shall lie down together.
Benuel S. Riehl, Narvon
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We all need to continue to pray that those five little girls who remain hospitalized will either recover and return to their families, or will be taken home to their Heavenly Father without experiencing additional pain and suffering.
Again, many thanks for your expressions of support and concern. The Amish community has been incredibly uplifted by such kindness.
Addendum, 11 October, 2006:
Tomorrow morning (10/12) the West Nickel Mines School is scheduled to be demolished. The demolition will be performed by private contractors, will begin before dawn, is expected to take about four hours, and the remnants of the building will be hauled to a nearby landfill. The students who survived or escaped the schoolhouse shootings will be homeschooled for the remainder of this school year, while a new school is constructed on another site.
Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, where three of the injured little girls are being treated, has announced that it will waive their families’ mounting medical costs. Lancaster General Hospital, Christiana Health Care Center, and the Reading Hospital, all of which at some point have played a role in the girls’ care, have also agreed to absorb the costs of their medical treatment.
According to family friends, three of the girls, ages eight, ten and twelve are being treated at Children’s Hospital -- with two in critical condition and one listed as serious. Two others, ages six and thirteen, are at Hershey Medical Center, listed in grave and serious condition. Rosanna King, the six-year-old at Hershey, returned there after having shown small signs of improvement upon being taken home to die in familiar surroundings.
The Amish do not believe in insurance and have not requested donations of any kind. Neither do they receive government funds such as Medicaid or Medicare. However, their elders have agreed to accept donations by forming a nine-member Nickel Mines Accountability Committee to distribute and manage any donations. The elders have insisted that a specified portion (I believe it is one-quarter) of any money collected be given to Roberts’ widow and three small children.
The Mennonite Central Committee, the Mennonite Disaster Service, the Anabaptist Foundation, and the Nickel Mines School Victims Fund have collected about $300,000 to date. Capital Blue Cross has also added a $500,000 donation. Numerous banks, stores and churches are also accepting donations which will be used for medical, rehabilitation, long-term care, and transportation costs.
Mail has been pouring in from every state in the country and internet donations have arrived from as far as Japan and Israel.