Commentary: 10 years after killings, Amish legacy of forgiveness endures

October 2, 2016

 

Ten years ago, on Oct. 2, 2006, a heavily armed milk truck driver shattered the peace of a one-room Amish schoolhouse in rural Lancaster County. He entered, dismissed the boys, teacher, and visitors and tied up the girls, aged 6 to 13. By the time police gained access to the building, five girls were dead and five others wounded.

 

Though a decade has passed, and horrific school shootings have both preceded and followed the Nickel Mines tragedy, the slaughter of five defenseless children by a troubled neighbor became noteworthy not just for the toll it took on a community dedicated to nonviolence, but for the remarkable response of those most injured, people who generally shun both public attention and any kind of praise.

 

"The fact that we have survived this long without becoming emotional and physical wrecks would have been impossible without God's help," a father who had one daughter killed and another wounded recently told me. The survivor, he says, is "one of God's miracle children," a now normal, healthy 18-year-old eager to move on with her life rather than relive the trauma of the day.

 

The grief caused by the loss of a child can be a constant companion. Violent death can magnify the trauma. But many of those who came into contact with the Amish in the days and years that have followed drew another lasting lesson from the carnage - the healing power of forgiveness.

 

Nicole Weisensee Egan was relatively new to People magazine when she became one of the first journalists on the scene. While the killings themselves dominated the coverage the first week, she recalls, the remarkable spirit of forgiveness displayed by the Amish community (including the victims' family members) became the focus in the next.

 

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