Amish Death Toll Likely To Rise

Four Amish men walk to a funeral for a victim of the Amish schoolhouse shootings October 5, 2006 in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
Getty Images/Mark Wilson
The death toll from Monday's shooting in a one-room Amish schoolhouse is likely to rise.

County coroner G. Gary Kirchner said he had been contacted by a doctor at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey who said doctors expected to take one girl off life support so she could be brought home. Dr. D. Holmes Morton, who runs a clinic that serves Amish children, said Thursday that the reports that a 6-year-old had been taken off life-support and taken home to die were accurate "as far as I know."

Five survivors of the schoolhouse attack continued to fight their injuries Thursday, at least four of them still hospitalized.

Horse-drawn buggies glided past roadblocks Thursday morning as Amish families gathered to bury four of the five young girls who were gunned down inside their tiny rural schoolhouse.

All roads leading into the village of Nickel Mines, where a milk truck driver had taken the children hostage and killed them, were blocked off for the funerals.

Their Amish families asked for privacy as scores of mourners prayed at the girls' homes before taking the bodies to a hilltop cemetery and burying Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Marian Fisher, 13; and sisters Mary Liz Miller, 8, and Lena Miller, 7.

The funeral for a fifth girl, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, was scheduled for Friday.

"I just think at this point mostly these families want to be left alone in their grief, and we ought to respect that," Morton said.

National mourning of similar tragedies, such as the massacre at Columbine High School, has been enabled in part by media coverage — something the Amish generally shun and specifically spurned in a statement Wednesday that pleaded for privacy.

Instead, the Amish are coping with the slayings by looking inward. They are relying on themselves and their faith, just as they have for centuries, to get them through what one Amish bishop called "our 9/11."

Amish custom calls for simple wooden caskets, narrow at the head and feet and wider in the middle. An Amish girl is typically laid to rest in a white dress, a cape, and a white prayer-covering on her head, Furman said.

The services are conducted in German, with the men and women sitting separately, reports . The locations of the burial sites is also kept private.

"Other than the embalming, they prepare the bodies themselves. They make the clothes, they dress the body and I really think it helps them work through the grieving process," said midwife Rita Rhoads, who delivered some of the slain children.

About 300 to 500 people were expected at each funeral, said funeral director Philip W. Furman. The church-led services typically last about two hours.

The Amish say they are quietly accepting the deaths 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 who has written a book about children in Amish society.

"The hurt is very great," Huntington said. "But they don't balance the hurt with hate."

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.

In the aftermath of Monday's violence, the Amish have reached out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack in a one-room schoolhouse.

"We saw that in action. we saw it being played out in front of our eyes. And it may be the silver lining in this very, very dark cloud," Rev. Bob Schenck of the National Clergy Council told CBS News Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith.

Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Among Roberts' survivors are his wife and three children.

"I hope they stay around here and they'll have a lot of friends and a lot of support," said Daniel Esh, a 57-year-old Amish artist and woodworker whose three grandnephews were inside the school during the attack.

Roberts' relatives may even receive money from a fund established to help victims and their families, said Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster services, an agency managing the donations.

Though the Amish generally do not accept help from outside their community, King quoted an Amish bishop as saying, "We are not asking for funds. In fact, it's wrong for us to ask. But we will accept them with humility."

Roberts stormed the school and shot 10 girls before turning the gun on himself. Investigators said Roberts, who brought lubricating jelly and plastic restraints with him, might have been planning to sexually assault the Amish girls.

Roberts revealed to his family in notes he left behind and in a phone call from inside the West Nickel Mines Amish School that he was tormented by memories of molesting two young relatives 20 years ago.

But police said Wednesday there was no evidence of any such sexual abuse. Investigators spoke to the two women Roberts named, who would have been 4 or 5 at the time, and neither recalls being sexually assaulted by Roberts.

"They were absolutely sure they had no contact with Roberts," state police Trooper Linette Quinn said.

The schoolhouse where the little girls were killed is now boarded up and likely to be torn down soon, reports Smith.