Amid grief, Amish also find way to forgive

Published October 5, 2006

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.

Funerals for four of the victims - Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Marian Fisher, 13; Mary Liz Miller, 8; and her sister Lena Miller, 7 - are scheduled for today at three homes. The funeral for the fifth girl, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, will be Friday.

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 family after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.

Roberts stormed the school and shot 10 girls before turning the gun on himself.

Roberts told his family in notes he left behind and in a phone call from inside the school that he was tormented by memories of molesting two young relatives 20 years ago.

However, the two relatives say they were not molested by Roberts, investigators said Wednesday.

Religious group drops plan to protest at funerals

Members of a radical Baptist church based in Kansas on Wednesday dropped its plan to picket at the funerals of five Amish girls slain in Lancaster County on Monday.

Westboro Baptist Church said it had planned to appear at the Amish services to protest Gov. Edward G. Rendell's signing of legislation this summer restricting its picketing at funerals of American soldiers and for what it said were "blasphemous" comments he made about the group.

Church leaders, in a statement Wednesday, said they had dropped those plans and instead would appear on a nationally syndicated radio talk show. The Web site of show host Mike Gallagher indicated the group was offered an hour of airtime in exchange for scrapping the demonstration.

Word of the pending protests at the girls' funerals prompted Rendell earlier Wednesday to issue a public plea for everyone to respect the privacy at the funerals.

"I am asking everyone to please observe the Amish religious tradition and the Amish desire to carry out their funerals in utmost privacy," Rendell said. .