Amish Mark School Massacre -- In Private

Amish children gather after an afternoon baseball game on the athletic field at The New Hope Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pa. during a gathering on the day before the one-year anniversary of the West Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting. AP/Daily Local News/Tom Kelly IV

Amish families kept to their homes Tuesday as they privately marked the anniversary of a schoolhouse attack that killed five girls a year ago.

In keeping with Amish custom, no public observances were held for Tuesday's anniversary. A day earlier, local Amish families gathered to sing hymns, pray and share a meal in remembrance.

"They just don't wish to play out their personal stories in the public limelight," said Herman Bontrager, a spokesman for a committee formed to distribute donations that poured in after the attack. "And that has to do with the desire to live a quiet and peaceable life, not making a show of themselves to avoid pride."

One year later and still no one knows for certain why Charlie Roberts, a local milk truck driver, husband and father of three, stormed into a one- room Amish school house, forced the adults and boys out, and then lined up 10 girls -- aged 6 to 13 -- and shot them all. Five died and five lived, reports CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts.

West Nickel Mines Amish School has long since been razed and replaced with overgrown pasture, in part to prevent it from being treated as some sort of shrine or becoming a morbid tourist attraction.

Members of this Amish community not only value keeping out of the limelight, they also make it a point to try to forgive, reports Pitts. For them, forgiveness isn't simply a teaching, it is their testimony.

Hours after the shooting, relatives of the murdered children were at the gunman's house, comforting his wife.

"I'm sure it was comforting to her, but it was also hard because she and her children had done nothing wrong," said Kristine Hileman, a friend of Robert's wife, Marie.

When more than $4 million in donations poured in from around the world for the Amish families, they shared it with the killer's family.

"In many ways, forgiveness is written into the cultural DNA of the Amish community," said Donald Kraybill, a local historian who studies the Amish.

Tuesday was an especially quiet day in the placid Lancaster County countryside. The roads in and around Nickel Mines were empty and Bontrager said some families chose not to work. There were no classes at the new Amish school that replaced the site of the attack.

"On the one hand, today is like another day, but I do know anniversaries are stark reminders," Bontrager said. "What I hear mostly is their deep concern to shelter the children from the in-your-face questioning and visibility."

About a mile away, at the fire hall in Georgetown, emergency workers assembled to mark the anniversary privately.

On Monday, the Amish invited state police troopers and some neighbors to join them in prayer, singing of hymns, a meal of barbecued chicken and a sunny afternoon of watching a ball game. Officials from Virginia Tech were also invited to attend. Four months after the massacre at that school, members of the Amish community traveled to Blacksburg, Va., to pass along a comfort quilt.

A year ago, milk truck driver Charlie Roberts, 32, the son of a police officer and father of three young children, suddenly commandeered the one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania Dutch farm country.

Roberts, who had no criminal or mental-illness history, apparently was tormented by the death of his infant daughter in 1997 and by a memory of having molested two female relatives about 20 years earlier - a memory that investigators have never been able to substantiate.

The ordeal in the schoolhouse lasted about 40 minutes from when Roberts entered the building at 10:25 a.m. until he shot the girls in rapid succession at 11:05 a.m. Two-and-a-half minutes after the shots rang out, state police were able to breach his makeshift barricades and enter the school just as he committed suicide.

Four of the five wounded girls returned to classes by December, but the fifth requires a wheelchair and is fed by a tube. One of the girls had surgery recently to repair damage to her arm and shoulder, while another has vision problems because of her gunshot wound.
  • Amy Clark

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