Tragedy at an Amish School

October 2nd, 2006

It was a typical fall day. Birds could be heard in the distance and little else, except maybe the clip-clop of a horse's hoofs and the rattling of a buggy heading down a back country road. It's normally quiet and peaceful in the rolling Amish farmlands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

But that peace was shattered when the sound of gunfire was heard from an Amish school. When local police broke into the one-room Amish schoolhouse they found 10 Amish girls ages 6-13 had been shot by Charles Roberts IV, who had then committed suicide. Two of the girls were dead. A third died in the arms of a policeman. And two more died later in area hospitals. The other five girls were in critical condition.

School shootings are a far too frequent occurrence in this country. But this case openly displayed a clash of two different cultures - the modern, more "advanced" American society and the withdrawn community of the Amish who attempt to distance themselves from worldly influences. The violence that is too common in one society blasted its way into the non-violent, peaceful community of "the gentle people".

The Amish were obviously shocked by this incident and they collectively grieved for the children and their families. But that shock extended far beyond just the Amish. This tragedy rocked all of Lancaster County. The day after the shooting, 1600 gathered for a prayer service at one local church, while hundreds more met at another church for prayer. All Lancaster County shared in the horror and grief of this tragedy. As one Amishman said, "Today, we're all Amish."

A number of funds were set up to accept donations for the families of the Amish girls who were shot, and for Roberts' wife and three young children. Donations and sympathy flowed in not only from across the county but from around the world.

Reporters, photographers, and video crews invaded this rural countryside to report this story around the world. The horror of this school shooting was the story they came to tell about. However, a bigger story soon appeared.

As more and more information became available, the reporters described the details of the shooting and the background of the man who committed this act. They also discovered something unexpected. In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn't cast blame, they didn't point fingers, they didn't hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with compassion toward the Roberts family.

The afternoon of the shooting an Amish grandfather of one of the girls who was killed expressed forgiveness toward the killer. That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain. The Roberts family was invited to one of the Amish funerals. And Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Charles Roberts' funeral.

In a world at war and in a society that often points fingers and blames others, this reaction was unheard of. The Amish culture closely follows the teachings of Jesus, who taught his followers to forgive one another, to place the needs of others before themselves, and to rest in the knowledge that God is still in control and can bring good out of any situation. Love and compassion toward others is to be life's theme. Vengeance and revenge is to be left to God.

All of Lancaster County mourns the loss of these young girls and terrible affect this has had on so many lives. We request your prayers for the families of the children who died, as well as those children and adults who have lived through this terrible ordeal. We also ask your prayers for the wife and three young children of the man who committed this senseless act. They, too, will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.

The victims of this tragedy