Monday, October 01, 2007

Healing After Horror

A year ago, on October 2, 2006, the horror of senseless death was inflicted upon a one-room Amish school house in rural West Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, PA. A local resident, a married milk truck driver, took young children as hostages, released a few, then began shooting the others, killing five and wounding five, before he killed himself just as police broke through.

See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "
In Amish Tragedy, Autopsies Required, Acceptance & Faith Abound" (10/06/06), and its Updates on 02/09/07 & 04/19/07.

The horror of those events is vividly recalled and recounted in articles now appearing at the first anniversary of the tragedy that shook a community, a state, and a nation. Such articles were posted by The Lancaster New Era, which has indexed, in reverse chronological order, all its articles published during the past year on this subject.

The most recent articles explore how various participants in events surrounding the massacre dealt with the horror, now looking back a year:

  • It still seems like a bad dream (09/30/07) -- One year later, a deputy coroner talks about the West Nickel Mines massacre of Amish girls and her ongoing job of dealing with tragedy. * * *
The horror of that day almost sealed Ballenger's desire to open herself to the sadness, pain and ugliness of the world in order to be a deputy coroner. * * *

"I was led down this path, and I was given the ability to do it," she says.

She says she will continue "as long as I feel I am doing a professional job and am offering something to these people." * * *
  • Troopers talk about horror of Amish school tragedy (09/28/07) -- Trooper Samuel Laureto stood poised, gun drawn, outside the West Nickel Mines School that morning last October. When the first gunshots sounded, Laureto thought, "He's shooting into the air. Ain't no way he's shooting those kids." * * *
They talked about it with their families and the other troopers who were there that day.

They get angry sometimes, Cpl. Leo Hegarty said. They get emotional, Trooper Brian Herr said. They get quiet, Trooper Jonathan Smith said. Some don't want to talk about it anymore. They want to put it behind them and move on. * * *
Last year, Reihart and his fellow emergency room workers at Lancaster General Hospital treated several of the Amish children wounded by a suicidal gunman.
* * *

Reihart admitted that he — and several people directly involved in the girls' care that day — were deeply affected by the shooting and still get emotional about the subject. * * *

"I thought, 'How can we learn from this?' " Reihart said. "There are still a lot of people hurting." * * *

On Monday, Oct. 8, Reihart has arranged for Lt. Col. Dave Grossman — a West Point psychology professor and expert in human aggression and violent crime — to lead a seminar in Lancaster County. * * *

"I think everybody thinks about the shooting every day," [an Amish man] says. "It will never go away. This place will never be the same." * * *

But after a year of mourning that gradually has turned from dark anguish to gray, leaden, never-ending sorrow, many observers see glimmers of light. The community, they say, is more united.

"It's the kindred spirit idea," explains Bontrager. "You hurt together, you grow together."

Residents say they also feel more connected with events in the rest of the world. Many empathized, for example, with victims of the mass shooting last spring at Virginia Tech.

And many, after reaching out to ministers, counselors and sympathetic neighbors, have adjusted their view of life to meet a new reality.

"I think a lot of people rearranged their priorities," notes an Amish farmer. He smiles wryly. "A lot of problems seem insignificant now." * * *
See also: PA EE&F Law Blog posting regarding the shootings at Virginia Tech on Monday, April 16, 2007, "Moved by Sorrow with Mourning Online" (04/20/07).

For a comprehensive report about the fund-raising efforts after the tragedy, and the community's activities towards healing, see: "One Year After: The Nickel Mine Amish School Shooting" (Word format, 2 pages), dated September 7, 2007, prepared by the Nickel Mines Accountability Committee, of Christiana, PA, & posted by the Bart Township Fire Company. It prefaces its brief report with thanks:

The events that took place on October 2nd in a 1 room Amish schoolhouse in Bart Township will live in the minds of many. The Bart Township Fire Company would like to thank everyone that helped us in so many ways.

Notice: The local banks have closed accounts for the victims funds. Please forward any contributions to: NMAC - Nickel Mines Accountability Committee, 1528 Georgetown Road, Christiana, PA 17509 , 1528 Georgetown Road, Christiana, PA 17509
Other reports posted by that Fire Company regarding the aftermath of the tragedy can be found here.

The reactions of the Amish community, which received the trauma directly, have been love, forgiveness, and faith.

This approach, modeled by these "plain people of Lancaster County", has been adopted by many others in nearby communities:

Given the gross upheaval the shooting caused, one might expect some in this community would remain unforgiving about the intrusion and the intruder.

But the Amish were not the only forgivers.

"It is quite possible for other Christians to forgive in this way," explains the Rev. Remel, who lived one house away from the Roberts family and was as shocked as anyone by his action.

"God works for good, not evil," he says, "and this world isn't all that we live for. We have a hope for an eternal life with God where there won't be all these bad things — and that gives us the ability to forgive."

Beyond forgiving, or forgetting, many have felt a need to look for good to offset bad.

A popular song written by a young Amish mother in response to the shootings concludes, "Let's just look for the good things: We're surrounded by miracles." * * *

A book was written during the intervening year that is eagerly awaited by the Amish, entitled "The Happening", by Harvey Yoder, a Mennonite author of popular spiritual books.

This new book, drawn from the Amish viewpoint, is described in another article posted on September 26, 2007, by The Lancaster New Era, entitled "
Amish eager for new book".
But those who want to know what really happened on Oct. 2, 2006, and how the Amish community reacted to the assault on a human level will read a much more modest book by Harvey Yoder.
The article reports that "The Happening" is "an account of Nickel Mines tragedy written by an insider."

"The Happening" presents the story through the eyes of a girl, one of the older teenagers, who was shot in the schoolhouse by Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver from nearby Georgetown.

This girl, with the fictitious name of "Rebecca Sue," is a composite of all 10 girls. Her family is a composite of all the families of girls who went to school that morning. Yoder designed the book this way to protect the identities of individuals in a community that prefers anonymity.

By writing from the point of view of one omniscient person, who witnessed or later heard about everything that occurred, the author has created a you-are-there narrative." * * *
The Happening, a 162-page paperback book, has been published by Christian Aid Ministries, an Anabaptist charitable organization with headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, and a large food distribution center in Ephrata.
The book costs $11.99, plus tax, and may be purchased at the Christian Aid Ministries warehouse, 2412 Division Highway, Ephrata, and at several Lancaster County bookstores and other locations.

Update: 10/03/07:

National Public Radio offered an audio broadcast on October 2, 2007, entitled "
Amish Forgive School Shooter, Struggle with Grief ":
A tragic school shooting left an Amish community devastated, but not resentful. But the ability to forgive doesn't mean that the families have been able to quickly get over their grief.
The article quoted Jonas Beiler, the founder of the Family Resource and Counseling Center, of Lancaster & Chester Counties, PA:
"Tragedy changes you. You can't stay the same," Beiler says.

"Where that lands you don't always know. But what I found out in my own experience if you bring what little pieces you have left to God, he somehow helps you make good out of it. And I see that happening in this school shooting as well. One just simple thing that the whole world got to see was this simple message of forgiveness." * * *