I had never been in the Nickel Mines area until after the infamous school shootings of October 2006.
Even later, I never sought it out. I guess because I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so.
But over the past few years I have happened to pass by a few times. Usually it was hauling Amish friends to somewhere in the southern end of Lancaster County, our route taking us through the community.
Shortly after the shootings, the Amish tore down the schoolhouse, not wanting it to become a tourist attraction.
Yet today there is a living memorial to the girls–Anna, Lena, Marian, Mary and Naomi–in the form of five pear trees growing at the site.
The trees grow in a row along a fenceline. There’s a good chance you wouldn’t notice them if you were driving by and didn’t know where you happened to be.
I remember the first time they caught my eye. You had to do a double-take. Five trees, all the same size, growing close to one another in a row. A natural layout that feels slightly more planned than the norm for Amish farms.
My Amish friends confirmed that they grew for the girls.
Photo by Bill Uhrich, Reading Eagle
The Reading Eagle has a moving story today with input from the Amishman who provided those trees:
Tuesday night, the Amish man went to see one of the wounded girls. A bullet had damaged her brain and she had been brought home to die.
“She struggled for every breath and you just didn’t know if she would take another,” he said.
Wednesday night, a cold front swept through Lancaster County.
The Amish man had, more than a week before, purchased six young pear trees at a sale at a nursery, figuring he might plant them around a pond on his property. He had temporarily placed them, rooted in large planting pots, near his shed.
“Thursday morning, five of those trees had blown over, like dominos being knocked over, but one was left still standing up,” he said.
He then had a strong sense that the badly wounded girl would survive. She did.
The Amishman’s garage ended up serving as a temporary school for the Nickel Mines children. He and an English employee later decided to plant the five trees at the site, with the sixth planted near the home of the surviving girl.
The trees get beautiful white blooms in springtime.