Remembering Nickel Mines, 10 Years On
It’s hard to believe that yesterday was the ten-year anniversary of the Nickel Mines school shootings.
On the morning of October 2nd, 2006, local milk truck driver Charles Roberts IV entered the West Nickel Mines School, barricaded the doors, and proceeded to shoot ten Amish schoolgirls, killing five of them.
At the time, the rapid Amish response of forgiveness of the shooter resonated around the world. As the stories below attest, the healing and forgiveness process is not so simple and easy. But the Amish example provided inspiration to many.
Over the past week, media have offered various perspectives of those involved. Pennlive.com shares the words of two Amish fathers and a first responder.
Said one father who lost a daughter:
The man said he told his wife shortly after the tragedy that he couldn’t imagine any good coming out of it, only to be proven wrong over and again by the response to the massacre.
For one, the message of forgiveness overwhelmed the community and the world outside and helped start the process towards healing. The next step was forgiving, as the Lord’s Prayer teaches, and then doing it every day continuously. This exercise of constant forgiveness and choosing to forgive made the process more bearable, he said.
The families involved get together and help each other through a sense of community, so that each member has a support system. Externally, the outreach and support from non-Amish has also made a mark.
“It has opened our eyes up to see there are a lot of good people in the world,” the man said.
Another father, who lost a daughter and had a second injured:
Forgiveness takes time, however, he said. He takes issue with some of the news coverage after the shooting that followed a narrative of instantaneous forgiveness. By choosing to forgive, the Amish chose not to become bitter and started to forgive, but that process took years and years.
“If they chose to follow God’s word, look for the potential good in whatever happen and forgive who ever wronged them, then they can become better persons,” the man said. ‘If you decide that person is so evil and I can’t forgive that man, then bitter is the only thing that will continue.”
“I don’t think any of us realized how much time passed before we could say, ‘I forgive Charlie Roberts for killing my daughter,’ and mean it,” the man said, adding that it took two, maybe three, years before he could answer “yes” to this question posed by a therapist:
“Have you forgiven Charlie to the point that you truly hope that God forgave him and he is in heaven with your daughter?” the man recalled being asked at a therapy session. “I think you can forgive him without getting to that point, but if you do that, then you will be OK.”
The Amish have the same struggles as any one else, the man stresses, but a faith in God helps ease those struggles.
In the interview this man goes into greater detail in the struggles his family has had, including the effects on his other children.
One of the special relationships that developed following the shooting was between the shooter’s mother, Terri Roberts, and the Amish community. Terri recently spoke with a number of media outlets, including ABC27, in this moving interview:
Roberts, who is suffering from terminal cancer, has written a book titled Forgiven: The Amish School Shooting, a Mother’s Love, and a Story of Remarkable Grace.
In an article for the Washington Post, Roberts discusses the special relationship that developed between her and the most severely injured girl, Rosanna King:
Several months later, Roberts had all the women back to her home for a tea — a gathering that’s now become an annual tradition. As she played again with Rosanna, she asked the girl’s mother if she might help care for her. In the intervening years, Roberts spent nearly every Thursday evening at the King family’s farm, bathing, reading and attending to Rosanna until her bedtime. After the first couple of visits, Roberts said, she would cry uncontrollably the entire drive home, overwhelmed by the reality that this little girl was severely handicapped because of her son.
That’s not lost on Rosanna’s father, either. There’s never an evening that Roberts is there visiting that Christ King doesn’t think of what her son did, but he said it never changes the goodwill he feels toward her.
For NPR, Terri added:
“I will never forget the devastation caused by my son,” says the 65-year-old Terri. “But one of the fathers the other night, he said, ‘None of us would have ever chosen this. But the relationships that we have built through it, you can’t put a price on that.’ “
“And their choice to allow life to move forward was quite a healing balm for us,” she says. “And I think it’s a message the world needs.”
Survivors of the shooting have their own trauma to deal with. Aaron Esh Jr., at age 13, was the oldest boy in the classroom the morning of the shootings:
Aaron’s trauma is less visible. Since the morning of the shooting, when he and the other boys ran for help, he’s struggled with crippling anxiety over his guilt that as the oldest boy in the class, he didn’t protect the girls. Even when a state trooper assured him there was nothing he could have done, it took a long time for him to forgive himself.
He started overeating, and when he gained weight rapidly, he stopped eating, eventually having to be hospitalized for anorexia.
At the picnic in 2007, Roberts knew Aaron was suffering, which made it all the more moving when, at the end of the party, he told her he’d had fun.
Since then, she’s developed a special affection for Aaron, a quiet, contemplative man. He traveled with her to Ohio where she gave a talk about her story. In her presence, he found his voice, getting up with her to share his experience. But he hasn’t really been able to share since.
Finally, in this story for Religion News Service, one Amish father shared a message for others dealing with loss:
Amish couples have traveled to towns affected by other school shootings, including Newtown, Conn., and Blacksburg, Va., the sites of two other mass shootings. “We’ve reached out and that was always a blessing,” said the father. “The best general message I could give to anyone is to actively seek God’s help because faith is very important.”
“If there is someone who is struggling from the loss of a child, spouse or parents, the most important thing is to talk to someone about it,” he added. “Find someone you trust, because bottling it up inside causes bitterness and bitterness brings hatred.”
Though he says he’s sure that the shootings weren’t part of God’s plan, “this is something he permitted as a way to get his name recognized in ways that might not have happened otherwise,” he concluded. “That’s as much as my human mind understands, and a thought I’ve become comfortable with.”
Remembering Nickel Mines
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” ~Matthew 6:14 (NIV)
It has only recently occurred to me that forgiveness is not easy. So often you hear people say “I’m sorry” and for whatever reason, it doesn’t always come across as being sincere. I suppose the same can be said about “I forgive you”.
However, I feel that until you have experienced a tragic loss such as the death of these five, innocent girls do you realize that the spirit of forgiveness is truly God-inspired. A boldness of faith must exist within the depth of one’s heart to have the strength to say “I forgive you for what you’ve done.”
An unconditional love exudes from the one offering the forgiveness even before remorse has been stated. I see this with Jesus on the cross when He asks God, the Father, to forgive those that put Him there. And then, there is the scene of the thief on the cross asking to be remembered. What a tremendous display of forgiveness.
I hope that I can give this much forgiveness as have the parents of those beautiful little girls………..
Remembering Nickel Mines
So very eloquently said, Trisha. AMEN!!
May our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ continue to teach us what it truly means to love and to forgive and may His Holy Spirit envelope and comfort all those in great loss.
I’m so saddened to hear of this story,I hate hearing it anywhere,you have to be very evil to do such a thing to harm a child.I talk and play with many Amish children, I know many and a Amish man does all my families construction and building,I lover the Amish tremendously
out here in Fort Plain N.Y,there are many they live here very freely,with no harm,there aren’t to many who would dislike them we have hose and buggy parking signs
And I do business with anything I need that they see I’m their customer for good
I love you all,some of the world’s nicest people you’ll ever meet in your lifetime,and there some in out fire department, so they are also out there to help in many ways,God Bless them all with love Pam
Thanks for sharing Pam. Sounds like you are part of a great community there in upstate NY.
It’s ten years on but reading about the continuing effects on the survivors and relatives really brought home that this is something they’ll be carrying in some form all their lives. The story of Aaron Esh in particular made an impression. I hadn’t heard much from the perspective of the boys there that day. I hope that he can find some peace.
Amish Grace says it all. What a witness for who they are and what they believe.
mines 10 years
The amish are such calm peaceful folks. God has given the grace and peace of mind to forgive such evil acts. I live in wisconsin and have a close friendship with an amish family in cashton. We visit 2 to 3 times a year. Spend money buying beautiful quilts and bent hickory items. My hubby and i mail cards back and forth throughout the year to see how everyone is doing in the community. No matter what happens they always end up on both feet aftet bending there knees to god to forgive the evils of this word. May god give all amish great riches in heaven for all there grace and forgivenesd here on earth. With much love and respect. Linda and ron
Thank you for your beautiful post.
I really wish the Amish would’ve come here to Hawai’i. Perhaps if they had, we’d be a very different place with less stress, less crime, and a slower, more peaceful place to live. Hawai’i is NOT the paradise everyone thinks it is and we all need to get back to the basics; faith, love, and charity. “But the greatest of these is LOVE.” Only love allows forgiveness! May God continue to bless all those who seek to glorify Him!
Very kind words…
I still remember the day it happened. My own daughter was less than 2 months into her 1st year as a 5th grade teacher, and I couldn’t help but think of her and her class. I tried to imagine the loss those parents, the whole community, had to deal with. Later, I read a different book about the shooting, and how the Amish can actually forgive those who hurt them so deeply. If only we could all do the same!
For the shooter’s mother to do all she’s done since then is an example of how Amish forgiveness is like a ripple in a pond, encompassing those around them.
God bless everyone involved…the victims, community, first responders, the surviving children and teacher, the shooter’s mother…they’re all linked forever by what happened 10 years ago.
I also remember exactly the day I found out and the fear in my students the following morning. Any knock or sudden interruption to classes after that gave you a heart-jump. But time goes on and what a powerful testimony to all.
I can only imagine Rebecca. This was something no one imagined happening and when it did it had to be traumatic even in places far away from Lancaster County. You and hundreds of other teachers I am sure helped your scholars feel some normalcy in the days following this event.
I know how you felt, Rebecca. I was still teaching at the time and it was awful to see what effect the incident had on my scholars. Someone had brought word to the schollhouse not long after it hit the news and asked me to step outside to tell me what had happened. It just wouldn’t sink in right away… When I finally went back inside it was just starting to sink in and I looked at my pupils all looking at me in a curious way (as in what was that all about) and thought of what had just taken place, I starting to cry and really struggled not to lose it. I did tell the pupils in a very vague way what had happened and decided I would send them home early, but I made sure I was outside watching them as long as I could. It was a heart-wrenching day and more so because we have friends whose children attended that school and later in the day confirmed they had indeed lost daughters.
That evening different teachers were discussing what to do and there was talk about locking the doors and so on. It so happened that our school was getting ready for Fall Program (as we had decided to do a fall/ Thanksgiving program that year instead of a Christmas Program just for something “different.) For one of our plays, we acted out one of my favorite poems, “The Unbarred Door.” After all the children were in that morning, I locked the classroom doors. At recess one of my pupils commented that my locking the door was not in keeping with the message or lesson in our poem and I felt chagrined. I decided to put my trust in God fully and absolutely… We continued to keep the door facing the road locked as we always had, as we didn’t use it often, but the other two doors remained “unbarred.” If you are not familiar with the poem, check it out. From the time I learned it in fourth grade until now, it still stirs me.
I thought these excerpts (and the full articles I got them from) really brought home how that forgiveness process wasn’t just like waving a magic wand, but that it was something that had to be worked through and revisited again and again. This idea is explored in the book Amish Grace as well.
I was sad to hear that Terri Roberts is dealing with cancer, though fwiw she seems to be in good spirits in the interview. When she spoke at the Amish forgiveness conference at Elizabethtown College several years ago, she really gave the impression of someone with a lot of energy and passion for what she was doing.
Not long after this happened, my mother and I were having a discussion and somehow forgiveness made its way into the conversation. My mother said that the Amish response of forgiveness showed her that forgiveness is a beautiful thing. Sometimes I look at that situation and feel ashamed of myself. These folks forgave something so tragic, meanwhile I hold onto anger over mere words. I hope I can be more like these Amish were. God bless
Erik, this is a very good thread <
Beauty from ashes
This extreme example of God’s Sovereign grace and forgiveness has echoed around the world and the Amish, the Millers and others of the Amish Community have inadvertently been co-workers with Christ in this example of showing His grace and mercy to a fallen world. We cannot question how God uses those He has chosen. Poor Jeremiah! Thank the Lord that wasn’t me that had to go around naked for 2 years and eat food cooked over poop. God has to use those fully surrendered to Him to bring the most extreme messages to the world. Please can someone tell the father who lost a daughter that this work, this cross allocated, has produced a profound story of God’s extreme forgiveness that has echoed around the world. To forgive the unforgiveable. How is that possible for us as humans? Well, you have shown us the example. To come every day and lay our cross down again at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. And again an hour later. And again. Please can someone tell Aaron Esh, that how on earth could we have appreciated this message if he had intervened, if he had remained and ‘saved the day’? God’s ways are not our ways, and this poor young man needs to understand that it’s NOT His fault. The Lord God Almighty is the Shepherd of the sheep, the Savior, absolute and unquestionable Lord of All. He is The One who was fully aware of what happened that day, and He allowed it for His purposes, to bring HIM Glory. For all we around the world can now say, what KIND of forgiveness is THIS? In these times of Noah! It is the same forgiveness extended to humanity upon the cross, bringing Glory to Jesus Christ. And the Amish have been honoured as His faithful servants as well. INSTRUMENTS in HIS hands. Lord did NOT instruct His beloved child, Aaron Esh, to interfere with or stop His plans and purposes in this case. If it was God’s will to stop this the roof would have landed on the perpetrator’s head and instantly killed him, or the Lord would have raised up someone else to bring him down. He did no such thing. It is the Lord who writes the story and brings it to pass. He has the Sovereign authority to do that. Perhaps Aaron Esh can come to wholeness and peace to understand that the Lord did not raise him up to stop His message of how to forgive and ultimately, hope, from resounding around the world, but perhaps to help others around the world come to understand how to forgive – others and themselves. May the Lord Almighty bless Aaron and all those affected by this tragedy with beauty from these ashes. May the people who ave suffered simiar tragedies around the world since then, find the Lord through this profound message of forgiveness and hope, given by the Amish
Wait, you guys have computers???
God help this world!