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Amish Forgive, Pray And Mourn

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.

Typically, they are so crowded, "if you start crying, you've got to figure out whose shoulder to cry on," said Rita Rhoads, a Mennonite midwife who delivered two of the five girls slain in the attack.

At some Amish viewings, upwards of 1,000 to 1,500 people might visit a family's home to pay respects, according to Jack Meyer, 60, a buggy operator in Bird in Hand. Such visits are important, given the lack of e-mail and phone communication, Meyer said.

The Amish have also been reaching out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack.

"The Amish neighbor came that very night, around 9 o'clock in the evening, and offered forgiveness to the family," Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, told CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts.

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

Huntington, the authority on the Amish, predicted they will be very supportive of the killer and his wife, "because judgment is in God's hands: `Judge not, that ye be not judged.'"

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, may 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.

A deputy county coroner on Wednesday described a gruesome scene at the school, with blood on every desk, every window broken and the body of a girl slumped beneath the chalkboard, below a sign that read "Visitors Brighten People's Days." Roberts' body was face-down next to the teacher's desk.

"It was horrible. I don't know how else to explain it," said Amanda Shelley, a deputy coroner in Lancaster County.

The West Nickel Mines School is boarded up now. Plywood can't disguise what happened. And school kids can't forget.

A 13-year old Amish boy who survived Monday's rampage told his parents "I could never ever walk inside that school again," reported Pitts, who added that church elders decided they will almost certainly tear it down.

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 Thursday at three homes. The funeral for the fifth girl, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12, is Friday.

About 300 to 500 people are expected at each funeral, said Philip W. Furman, an undertaker. The church-led services typically last about two hours before mourners travel in horse-drawn buggies to a cemetery for a short graveside service.

In keeping with custom, the Amish use 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.

Five other girls remained hospitalized — three in critical condition and two in serious condition. They ranged in age from 6 to 13.

Enos Miller, the grandfather of the two Miller sisters, was with both of the girls when they died. He was out walking near the schoolhouse before dawn Wednesday — he said he couldn't sleep — when he was asked by a reporter for WGAL-TV whether he had forgiven the gunman.

"In my heart, yes," he said, explaining it was "through God's help."