NICKEL MINES, Pa. – In just about any other community, a deadly school shooting would have brought demands from civic leaders for tighter gun laws and better security, and the victims’ loved ones would have lashed out at the gunman’s family or threatened to sue.
But that’s not the Amish way.
As they struggle with the slayings of five of their children in a one-room schoolhouse, the Amish in this Lancaster County village are turning the other cheek, urging forgiveness of the killer and quietly accepting what comes their way as God’s will.
“They know their children are going to heaven. They know their children are innocent … and they know that they will join them in death,” said Gertrude Huntington, a Michigan researcher and expert on children in Amish society.
“The hurt is very great,” Huntington said. “But they don’t balance the hurt with hate.”
In the aftermath of Monday’s violence, the Amish are looking inward, relying on themselves and their faith, just as they have for centuries. They hold themselves apart from the modern world, and have as little to do with civil authorities as possible.
Amish mourners have been going from home to home for two days to attend viewings for the five victims, all little girls laid out in white dresses made by their families. Such viewings occur almost immediately after the bodies arrive at the parents’ homes.
Typically, they are so crowded, “if you start crying, you’ve got to figure out whose shoulder to cry on,” said Rita Rhoads, a Mennonite midwife who delivered two of the five girls slain in the attack.
At some Amish viewings, upwards of 1,000 to 1,500 people might visit a family’s home to pay respects, according to Jack Meyer, 60, a buggy operator in Bird in Hand. Such visits are important, given the lack of e-mail and phone communication, Meyer said.
The Amish have also been reaching out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack. Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.
“I hope they stay around here and they’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support,” Daniel Esh, a 57-year-old Amish artist and woodworker whose three grandnephews were inside the school during the attack, said of the Robertses.
Huntington, the authority on the Amish, predicted they will be very supportive of the killer and his wife, “because judgment is in God’s hands: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
Roberts stormed the school and shot 10 girls before turning the gun on himself.