The date was October 2nd, 2006. West Nickel Mines Amish school, a one-room schoolhouse in an Amish community in Pennsylvania, was alive with activity as students filled its interior. At first glance, it was an ordinary Monday, characterized by schooling in reading, writing, and arithmetic. At 10 in the morning, the unthinkable occurred. Charles Roberts IV, a man unaffiliated with the Amish community, entered the premises and shot ten children within the schoolhouse, five of which eventually succumbed to their injuries. Following the shooting, Roberts ended his own life.
The Amish community was shattered. The unspeakable tragedy was met with shock, horror, and anguish. In the days following the shooting, swarmed with media attention, the community made an announcement. They had wholeheartedly forgiven the perpetrator, holding steadfast to their religious theology of mercy. In the coming days and weeks, the Amish exemplified their fervent forgiveness through their actions. Thirty Amish people attended Roberts’s funeral. The shooter’s widow, who was left with three young children, was invited to the young victims’ funerals. Additionally, the community went on to institute a fund to financially support the family of the deceased shooter.
The Amish response was met with widespread criticism. The community’s expeditious response to the shooting was labeled as a rejection of the evil that had taken place. Nonetheless, the Amish ignored such opinions and maintained their stance on forgiveness. One father in the community suggested that the shooter “had a mother and a wife and a soul” and was now “standing before a just God.”
In a society where technology is extremely pervasive and modern conveniences are taken for granted, the Amish culture is often met with criticism and judgment. In the media, they are commonly portrayed as fanatically religious. Therefore, understanding the viewpoint of the Amish can be extremely difficult for mainstream society, especially given a circumstance such as the shooting. How could these people so quickly forgive the perpetrator? How could they treat the widow and her family with instantaneous love and mercy?
To grasp the community’s response to the tragedy, it is essential to transcend common stereotypes and properly understand Amish culture. The Amish are traditional Christians focused on maintaining lifestyles centered on simplicity and God’s teachings. Contrary to common belief, the Amish do not reject all modern conveniences; it is common for the Amish to use limited machinery and electricity. A regular Amish family is quite large and interested in activities such as camping, fishing, singing, and sports such as volleyball and softball. For instance, an ordinary day could include chores such as milking the cows and collecting chicken eggs, preparing large, hearty meals and attending religious services. Such services take place in personal homes and include ministers, prayer, and singing from the Ausbund, or the Amish hymnal book. As a whole, the Amish are extremely community-minded, and enjoy writing letters back and forth and socializing with friends. An evening in a regular household often includes a family game of Monopoly or Scrabble.
The greatest misconception involving the Amish culture is that it is a cult. On the contrary, there is no single authoritarian leader; members are simply expected to follow the teachings of the New Testament and that of their community congregations. Furthermore, the Amish belief in adult baptism means that participation is a choice. Young adults are often given a Rumspringa period, directly translated to “moving or hopping around,” when they can experience the modern world. When this period has ended, teens can make the choice to leave the Amish and join mainstream society.
Assessing this information, one could recognize that the Amish are not entirely different from the “modern” world. Often, as a society, individuals find themselves judging those whom they perceive as “different.” They are incredulous that a group of people would willingly avoid the majority of modern technology. Nonetheless, it is essential to remove judgment and accept the Amish culture. Amish communities are instituted as areas for people to choose to live simplistic, religion-centered lives, and outsiders must respect that lifestyle.
Given the situation of the shooting, rather than jumping to judgment and criticism, there are many positives drawn from the Amish response. In treating the situation with forgiveness and undying mercy, the Amish mirror a core set of respectable values.
On October 12th, 2006, six days after the shooting, the grieving community of West Nickel Mines tore down the schoolhouse where the travesty occurred. They began construction of a new schoolhouse, which they went on to call the New Hope School. The Amish were not forgetting the evil that occurred; rather, they were stepping toward a more hopeful future. As a society, everyone can learn from this compassionate perspective. When a tragedy occurs, it is essential to react with commiseration and empathy. Spreading love allows society to further unite the world and maintain peace.