A Lesson of Forgiveness

A year ago Monday, gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV shattered a tranquil Amish community when he killed five young girls and injured five others at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa.

Roberts lined the girls against the chalkboard and shot them. As police drew closer, he killed himself.

The act stunned the nation, which watched this private community deal with its loss. Away from prying media lenses, a group gathered Monday to remember the moment that catapulted its secluded community into the public arena.

A Year Later

During the last 12 months, the community has shown its resilience. It opened a new schoolhouse called New Hope Amish School just six months after the tragedy.

But the community also has changed in dramatic ways. The new schoolhouse has a locking steel door and an emergency release bar, but memories of the tragedy have not been erased easily.

"The pain is still very close to the surface," said Herman Bontrager, who worked with the Amish on their only public comment to mark the anniversary.

In the statement, they wrote about the miraculous turnaround of 6-year-old Rosanna King, who was shot in the head. Doctors didn't expect her to survive. "As of today she smiles a lot — big smiles — and recognizes family members and a few others and often responds to eye contact with a big smile," the statement said.

But Rosanna's recovery still isn't complete. She is still unable to speak.

Her sister Sarah Ann also was shot in the head. After reconstructive surgery, she is back in school.

"Her brain surgeon and therapists all said it's a true miracle that she recovered as fully as she did, which we thank God for," the community statement said.

While the girls continue their recovery, some of the young boys still struggle with survivor's guilt.

"They think, 'Could we have done anything? Could we have prevented this? These are 12- and 13-year-old boys," said Don Kraybill, who wrote a book about the shootings.

The Act of Forgiveness

Despite the trauma's impact on the community, faith inspired the Amish to reach out to the killer's family. They not only forgave him, but they handed over a portion of the $4.3 million they received in donations to Roberts' wife.

Since then Marie Roberts has moved from the area and remarried. In July, the Roberts family invited the Amish to a picnic.

"It was a gracious act of reconciliation by the killer's parents," said Bontrager, "but it was only possible I think because the Amish had made the decision to forgive."

In fact, the Amish see forgiveness as a lifetime task, according to Bontrager.

"The Amish would say that forgiveness is a journey," Bontrager said. "It doesn't erase the pain."

But the pain has given them a special insight few would ever know. When they witnessed another dramatic school shooting, this time on Virginia Tech's campus, the Amish traveled to the school and helped grieving families.

Va. Tech families returned the kindness by attending Monday's memorial.

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