Amish Country News Buggy

Amish Country News

Your Guide to Pennsylvania's Amish Country

Celebrating 21 Years!

 

 

2002/2007 AMISH SERIES:

People of Peace, Victims of Violence

· The guard struck the Amish boy, "knocking him down and stabbing him with his bayonet. He made a cut in his pants and a gash in his hips about two inches long."

· A 45-mile rock-throwing spree resulted in damage to four carriages, nine homes, one school…and one dead Amish baby.

· The arsonist managed to set fire to seven Amish barns in two hours, destroying six of them, killing 177 horses and cows, with damages estimated at one million dollars.

The Amish seem to lead a quiet and peaceful lifestyle, yet they are sometimes the victims of violence. The incidents mentioned above are true, and are not from the distant past. They took place in the years 1918, 1979, and 1992, respectively. Our 7-part Amish 2002 series offers a brief overview of the Anabaptist position of non-resistance in times of war and peace, from their origins over 450 years ago through the end of the 20th century.

PART 1: In the Beginning

Inflation, poverty, problems in the cities, over-population, religious disputes, threats to government stability, wars, problems between church and state...

While this may sound like a list of problems from our world today, it was also the world of 16th century Europe. In 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther challenged the authority and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. It was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. A new invention, the printing press, and the support of many German princes helped to spread Luther’s ideas.

Ulrich Zwingli, a Protestant priest in Zurich, Switzerland, taught "salvation by grace through faith alone." But some followers were troubled by Zwingli’s alliance with the City Council. Zwingli felt God’s Kingdom on earth should be established by political power. However, some of his followers believed that church reform should not come from the government, but that the church and state should be separate. They believed in pacifism and adult baptism. The Council demanded that these dissenters stop their meetings and baptize their children. Indeed, infant baptism was the main way authorities knew of the birth of children for their tax purposes.

On January 21, 1525, they secretly met and re-baptized each other to signify their adult commitment to their faith, and a Church not part of the State. Their radical acts challenged the unity and authority of both, and their refusal to serve in the military was a distinct threat to the city’s safety.

The results? They were hunted down, asked to recant, had their children taken, were threatened, exiled, tortured, sold into slavery, branded, burned at the stake, drowned, or dismembered. A book of some 1200 pages was printed in the year 1660 in Holland to preserve the stories of hundreds of these Anabaptists (re-baptizers) who chose to suffer rather than to resist. This book, known as the MARTYRS MIRROR, is still found in many Amish homes today.

Felix Manz was the first to be put to death by drowning in 1527. Soon, almost a thousand had been killed in Switzerland for their faith, all in an effort to bring these radicals back to the state church. Of the hundreds of stories, perhaps the most profound is that of Dirck Willems. Pursued by an Anabaptist hunter across frozen water, his captor fell through the ice. Willems, rather than escaping, returned to save his captor’s life. Willems, however, was taken into custody and later burned at the stake.

The Anabaptist faith of these Swiss Brethren spread from Switzerland to Germany and the Netherlands. In the following years, thousands of these Anabaptists were put to death by both Protestants and Catholics, who viewed their ideas as dangerous thinking. These experiences ingrained in them a suspicion of the world and government, as well as humility and a belief in separateness from and denial of the violence around them. They were forced to worship in hiding, in each other’s homes, sometimes in caves. A story from the MARTYRS MIRROR tells of a ferryman who allowed the Anabaptists to hold secret worship services on his boat. He was caught and condemned to death for allowing these activities.

To this day, the Amish do not have churches in which to worship, but do so in each other’s homes, much like the early Anabaptists. For them the church is not so much a building, as a community of believers.

Click here to examine the stories and images from the Martyrs Mirror online.

Some of the imprisoned Anabaptists set to writing hymns in their cells. These were soon printed and, with the addition of others, became the AUSBUND, the hymnbook still used by the Amish today. Some 400 years have passed since these words were written. Still sung by the Amish today at worship, they are reminder of the hardships and sacrifices endured by their forefathers...

We wander in the forest dark,

With dogs upon our track;

And like the silent, captive lamb

Men bring us, prisoners, back.

They point to us amid the throng,

And with their taunts offend;

And long to let the sharpened ax

On heretics descend.

In time the death penalty ended, but Anabaptists continued to suffer wherever they went in Europe, largely because they refused to serve in the military. Some were imprisoned, branded with hot irons, or sold as slaves and separated from their families. For many, the guarantee of religious freedom would only be found in a New World, across the Atlantic Ocean, in an American colony known as "Penn’s Woods."

PART 2: Colonial America through the Civil War

In the early 1700’s, Amish, Mennonites, and other religious groups began arriving from Europe in William Penn’s colony (Pennsylvania) in America, after an arduous ocean voyage of two or three months, during which many died. Of such voyages, we have these words from a passenger diary kept on the ship "Charming Nancy" in 1737...

On the 29th of July, three children died. On the first of August my Hanseli died, and the Tuesday previous five children died. On the 3rd of August, contrary winds beset the vessel and from the first to the 7th of the month three more children died... Landed in Philadelphia on September the 18th, and my wife and I left the ship on the 19th. A child was born to us on the 20th --- died --- wife recovered. A voyage of 83 days.

Early Conflicts

It seemed that they had finally found a place where they could escape persecution and live in peace with their neighbors, although there were some attacks upon them during the French and Indian War. The most famous story is of the Jacob Hochstetler family. Attacked by Indians in 1757, Jacob refused to allow anyone to take up arms against the attackers. They locked themselves in the cabin, and hid in the basement when the house was set on fire. As they tried to escape through the cellar window, all were caught and killed, except Jacob and two sons. They were separated from their father, who escaped, but was not reunited with his sons until years later. When the Revolutionary War broke out, however, other difficulties arose.

As John Hostetler wrote in AMISH SOCIETY, "Their opposition to taking the oath of allegiance and joining the militia was interpreted by patriots as an alignment with the British. The Amish, unlike the Quakers, generally paid the war tax but disclaimed any responsibility for its use."

According to Steven Nolt in his HISTORY OF THE AMISH, the Amish were caught between the Tories and the Patriots, and neither side cared to recognize the non-resistant stance of "peace churches." In some cases, contributions were made instead of military service.

In Berks County in 1775, Isaac Kauffman, was even jailed and charged with treason for refusing to hand over a horse. According to Richard MacMaster, the Amishman declared, "You are rebels and I will not give a horse to such bloodthirsty persons." He lost half of his land and remained in prison until the conclusion of the war. The turbulent political times resulted in some Amish young people taking up arms, much to the dismay of their families.

The Civil War

We have some information on how the Amish fared during the Civil War, when their belief in non-resistance again brought them under suspicion on both sides. The moral and political issues again tore some families apart, as some joined the ranks. The 1863 Federal Conscription Act allowed the hiring of substitutes, and some Amish and Mennonite communities raised thousands of dollars for those members facing the draft, who could avoid it with a $300 "commutation fee."

Lancaster’s "Tennessee John" Stoltzfus was one of the Amish who hired a substitute to take his place. According to Paton Yoder in his book TRADITION & TRANSITION, he "kept a blue coat in his attic…from the man he had hired as a substitute, later killed in battle. Occasionally John retrieved the coat and reverently polished the brass buttons in remorseful meditation."

Stories tell of some Amish in the South who had their farms occupied and food and property confiscated by the troops. Obviously for farmers, horses were needed for their work, but horses were also highly sought by the soldiers. Following is an excerpt from an article in the Amish magazine Family Life, reprinted in the book THE AMISH IN THEIR OWN WORDS, in which Mary Elizabeth Yoder writes about one incident in Maryland....

At dawn, the Swartzentrubers were routed from sleep by hundreds of starving soldiers demanding food. When the bread supply was exhausted, they ordered Mrs. Swartzentruber to make buckwheat cakes. The starving rebels crowded into the kitchen, eating batter from the bowl, or pouring it directly onto the stove and devouring the half-baked cakes. They swarmed around the spring like thirsty cattle and drank up all the water. They raided the pantry and cellar of all that was eatable. Some jerked a setting hen from her nest and ate her eggs raw, unhatched chicks and all. Others milked the cows and slaughtered one, roasting the meat over open fires on the lawn. When the soldiers left, they took bedding, clothing, Mr. Swartzentruber’s watch, and all that could be carried along. They drove their cattle and horses ahead of them.... This was a hard blow for the Swartzentrubers, who had lost their first two infants to death in the preceding two years.

David Luthy, again writing in Family Life, tells of a Missouri Amish boy, Christian Raber, whose companion was shot by a drunken Union soldier. Later, the soldier was tried, acquitted, and discharged.

Just as issues of slavery divided the nation, the conflict brought on by the Civil War added to the turmoil in the Amish church between progressives and conservatives, and questions of integration versus separatism, tradition versus change. In the years immediately following the war, the Amish church divided as well.

PART 3: World War I

The "war to end all wars" spelled problems for the Amish and Mennonites, whose Pennsylvania German dialect made them suspect in some people’s eyes. By this time, Amish dress and customs also made them more distinct from average Americans. The Amish declared conscientious objector (CO) status. As Albert Keim writes in THE AMISH AND THE STATE, "CO’s were drafted into the army and posted to military camps with the hope that they would enter noncombatant service." The question then became one of how much to "cooperate." Their resistance to wearing uniforms rather than their plain clothes, and their refusal to bear arms, resulted in harassment, beatings, and humiliation in many cases.

A book recounting these incidents called NONRESISTANCE PUT TO THE TEST was published in 1981. Particularly shocking were the experiences recounted by Menno Diener at Camp Taylor, Kentucky, where he witnessed the bayonet stabbing of one Amish boy. During the course of his stay, Menno protested having to wear a military uniform and take orders. Here is how he describes what followed...

So the commander got a broomstick and beat me across the legs till he broke his stick. I had streaks and swelling on my legs. Then he got a 2x4 about three feet long that had four spikes in one end, and threatened to hit me in the face with it. He put it near to my face and then back again like a ball bat and said, "If it weren’t for the law, I would like to see how far I could sink these spikes into your face."

A few days later another boy, his face black and blue from beatings, was placed on display by a public road. Someone placed a sign on him that read, "I refuse to fight for my country."

When camp officials were court martialed for their actions, the Amish refused to testify against them because "it would be helping to punish them and cause ill feelings between resisting and nonresistance, and be a poor light of Christianity in our church and background."

The book contains stories of suffering in many other camps, including one where a boy was pulled for half a mile on the ground by a horse. At another camp in Georgia, a man was hung by a rope until unconscious.

According to Steven Nolt in his HISTORY OF THE AMISH, "Officers occasionally ‘baptized’ Amish COs in the camp latrines in mockery of their Anabaptist beliefs."

In Kansas, Amish bishop Manasses Bontrager wrote a letter urging his members not to buy Liberty Bonds, and urging support of the Amish youth serving in the camps. In his words...

Many people can’t understand why we don’t want to defend our country. Christ said, "Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God." Caesar protects our property, for which we should willingly pay our taxes as Christ asked us to.... But our coming in this world, our intellects, our physical powers --- these do not belong to Caesar. If he claims them to defend him, Christ’s laws strictly forbid our yielding to such a claim.

A few months later, Bontrager was arrested by a U.S. Marshall and put on trial for Violation of the 1917 Espionage Act and was fined $500 for "inciting and attempting to incite subordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States."

As Nicholas Stoltzfus wrote of the men who contributed their camp stories to his booklet NONRESISTANCE PUT TO THE TEST…

"The inner struggles and temptations which they overcame through faith can be worth more to us than the knowledge of the physical sufferings they endured… May our youth today compare their lot with those who were often abused, who suffered from cold, hunger, and lack of Christian fellowship. Through all this their main concern was to do the will of God.

"On the other hand, most of us today are provided with all the necessities of life, we suffer no bodily persecution, yet we are at times dissatisfied with our lot in life. May a look at their life and example awaken in us thankful hearts as we appreciate the privileges and freedoms we have today."

PART 4: World War II through the Gulf War

World War II

In the period from 1941 to 1945, alternate service was required of those who were conscientious objectors, many of whom were, of course, not Amish. For many Amish, however, a farm deferment meant they could work at home. Those not eligible had to leave the community, and often worked in Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps, in mental hospitals, forestry projects, or fire-fighting. Various "peace churches" were involved in creating this program with the U.S. government.

According to Albert Keim in THE AMISH AND THE STATE, "the historic peace churches funded all the expenses for the men, including food, administrative costs, and a tiny monthly stipend of two dollars and fifty cents. Selective Service paid travel costs for the men." Several hundred Amish men were among the thousands who served in these camps. Keim continues to describe some of the jobs these men performed in the CPS program…

"Abraham Graber and Amos Fisher helped to fight flood waters in Iowa and Montana. Leroy Keim led a lonely life on a Forest Service lookout tower. Ed Miller was a subject in a series of human guinea pig experiments at the University of Illinois… David Yoder cooked for the Smoke Jumper unit at Missoula, Montana. Levi Troyer worked on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania."

Nearly 50 Amish boys were assigned work in mental hospitals. From their experiences comes this interesting story from the Amish magazine Family Life, reprinted in the book THE AMISH IN THEIR OWN WORDS. Bishop Ira Nissley writes that one day an insane man began slicing the air with a razor blade he had obtained. The employees decided this would be a challenge to the Amish belief in non-violence and called three of them to come and subdue the man while everyone watched to see what they would do.

With a prayer in their hearts, the three consulted together for a few seconds. Then two of them sent off to get a mattress, and the third unlocked the door for them when they came. The mattress appeared to be more than they could handle in the narrow doorway. They heaved and fumbled and pulled. Finally, they looked up at the insane man and said, "Maybe you could give us a hand with this mattress?" The patient forgot all about his anger and violent intentions. He dropped the razor blade and grabbed the mattress. In that instant, the third CO, with a flick of his hand, had the sharp blade and slipped out of the room and down the hall with it.

Korea and Vietnam

During these years, Amish boys were given I-W status and again served mainly in hospitals or prisons. While conditions were better, there was sometimes harassment of the Amish boys over haircuts, the wearing of uniforms, or their non-violent beliefs. But some boys refused even alternate service, and so were sent to prison. Here is part of an account written anonymously by an Amish youth...

While I was in the gym one day, watching others play a game of shuffleboard, an inmate came over and slapped me across the face. It took me by surprise, and I didn’t know why it was done. At once, the prisoner was ashamed of himself. We had always been friends. He told me some of them were betting that I would strike back, so they decided to test me. Actually, I was too much surprised to strike back. There were other times when they tried out my faith by betting with each other. It made me feel quite small.

From 1966 until the end of the war in 1973, the Amish National Steering Committee worked with the government to send some boys to other Amish farms to work so they could avoid having to leave the community.

The Gulf War

By this time, our nation no longer had a draft, so there was no real issue here for the Amish young people. Nevertheless, talk of a possible reinstatement of the draft resulted in some boys hurriedly getting baptized and joining the Amish church. One Amishman, Elmo Stoll, bluntly wrote in Family Life magazine about this situation....

What a shame if they had joined the church only to discover they wouldn’t have had to! It would surely be in place for church leaders everywhere to cry out against this hypocrisy. We are thankful for the religious liberty we enjoy, so that those who are sincerely conscientious objectors do not need to kill their fellow men. However, if we knowingly shelter insincere persons among us, someday we will surely have to give an account for it.

We have heard from reliable sources that before too long a worldwide inquest and thorough investigation is going to be made into this matter, among other matters. It is not a false rumor. The Bible calls it the Great Judgement Day.

PART 6: Crimes Against the Amish

In Times of Peace, A Baby Dies

Although their belief in non-violence cast suspicion on the Plain churches in times of war, it also makes them easy targets of "mischief" and harassment in times of peace. In 1979, the accidental killing of an Amish baby in Adams County, Indiana, brought one shocking incident to national attention. (The story was the basis for a TV movie, A Stoning in Fulham County.)

What came to light was the "sport" of some local boys from town who rode around in cars at night throwing stones and tile at Amish homes and carriages. The Amish in the area were referred to by the locals in a derogatory manner as "clapes," apparently a combination of the words clay and ape, a reference to the fact that the Amish were farmers.

One night, this activity accidentally resulted in the death of an Amish infant. In time it became apparent that some adults in the community harbored resentment toward the Amish, and that such activities were more common than had first been suspected. One boy who had been involved in the stoning was reported to have often come into work Monday mornings bragging about his evening escapades. The young man laughingly told a co-worker one day that he had thrown a corncob and "hit a little kid in the face and blood went all over."

The Amish did not wish to testify against the boys, and never did, saying that "their punishment is not up to us. We didn’t want to file charges." In the end, the four boys involved ended up receiving suspended jail sentences and fines of $2,000...for killing a baby. (For a detailed account of this incident, see Rolling Stone magazine, February 19, 1981.)

"Pranksters"

Throughout the United States, the Amish are still sometimes harassed, taken advantage of, or made fun of by "pranksters." Here in Lancaster County, the Plain people are more involved in the local community and perhaps better understood than they are in some other areas of the country. They work side-by-side with their non-Amish neighbors in the volunteer fire companies. They frequently mingle with residents and visitors in stores and business. But this does not mean they are free of problems with "pranksters."

There are stories told by Amish boys of hats being stolen from open carriages, slashings of the sides of buggies, and even attempts to trip horses when out traveling at night. It is difficult to know how often such incidents occur since the Amish rarely report this.

In His book THE AMISH IN COURT, Wayne Fisher writes of one such incident in Lancaster County….

"Late one night in August, 1960, four youths were riding around near Leacock, Pennsylvania, when they passed several Amish women walking along the road. The youths stopped and turned around. One of them pulled a large stalk of corn from a nearby field and...two of the youths leaned out of the car and struck Mrs. Lydia L. Stoltzfus across the face with the root of the cornstalk. The strike broke her nose and shattered her glasses. When arrested and questioned about the incident, the youths said, "We just don’t like the Amish."

The April 6, 1992, issue of the Lancaster New Era reported a spree of "Mennonite-bopping." Focused on the county’s Old Order Mennonites, who also ride in horse-drawn carriages, the incidents included the vandalism of one-room schools, and a bat-swinging joyride that damaged a carriage and knocked a bicyclist to the ground.

Between 2001 and 2002, a series of barn arsons in Lancaster County struck fear into the hearts of many local farmers, both Amish and non-Amish. It also reminded many of what happened just ten years ago…

The Mifflin County Barn Arsons

On March 14, 1992, an unknown arsonist drove around the Amish settlement of Big Valley in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, and in just two hours had set fires in seven barns, resulting in the destruction of six of them, and killing 177 horses and cows, with damages estimated at one million dollars. The story received coverage nationwide, including the April 13, 1992, issue of People magazine.

What captured the nation’s attention, and stunned the conservative Amish community, was the outpouring of help from Amish and non-Amish alike. Reporters and TV crews converged on the scene to witness the various barn-raisings. Hundreds of people arrived to work in the rebuilding. A fund was established to help, and over $600,000 came in from across the United States and beyond.

One Amishman was asked if he wanted the person responsible caught. His reply was a shrug and "only if he wants to do it again." When asked what penalty the arsonist should be given for burning down the barns, one local man responded that the Amish would "like to have him to dinner, show him how they live, and ask why he did this to them."

The FBI investigated the fires as a hate crime, and it was discovered that the man responsible for the fires had an "Amish connection." According to the Associated Press, "his father was raised Amish, but never practiced as an adult." The son never joined the Amish church, but grew up in the area before moving to Florida after the fires.

Within a month of the fires, the six barns had been rebuilt and the word went out to the press that donations were no longer needed. An NBC report in April noted that the Amish were pondering "how to say thank-you to a world they have little contact with."

PART 7: After September 11

The local Lancaster paper had a short article on the "Amish reaction" to the shocking events of September 11, 2001. They were as horrified as anyone else. Indeed, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania went down in an area partly populated by Plain folk. Most of what they knew and saw came from newspapers and magazines, not TV.

A few flags did appear in windows, although the church did not condone such shows of "patriotism". There were auctions here organized by non-Amish, to which Amish donated many valuable items. While they do support the government, many wished there could have been a non-military solution, and surely prayers were offered for those who lost their lives on both sides of the conflict.

Since the Amish are people with different viewpoints, no single person can speak for them. But there is one very personal Amish story to be told. A Pennsylvania Amishman, David Wengerd, was at the World Trade Center on that fateful day. David, his wife, and other farmers go on a regular basis to sell their products at New York City markets. Here is his story of that day, as it was printed in the October, 2001 issue of the local Amish publication The Diary

It was September 11th, 6:30 in the morning. It was a beautiful sun shining morning. I was setting up my tent beside World Trade Center #1. People were rushing by, already going to work at the Offices in World Trade. It was a brisk morning for business. I had a lot of my regular smiling customers buying cookies, muffins, cheese, etc. for their office. These people had no idea what was to happen to them that day!

I heard a plane coming very low, there was a terrific ROAR, and then a noise like I never heard before! People started screaming and looking up; then I noticed debris falling like snow. It was everywhere! Fire showed about three-fourths of the way up at Tower #2. I was at market with about 15 other farmers and we started running. We were all running east, away from the building. People were screaming and running. Cars were blowing their horns. Sirens started going all around. People were getting hit by cars while running across the street! We just kept running and looking back. After I ran about two city blocks, I stopped and looked back with awe at the burning building.

After about 5 – 10 minutes, I decided to go back and grab my things together before the police wouldn’t let us get that close. We had taken three markets with that driver, so I had no driver with me. I asked the neighbor farmer to take my things away somewhere. He told me just to let him get his things on first. As he said, so I stacked mine behind his truck. About half way through packing, we heard another crash; it sounded like an explosion like the first one had, but that one was more scary than the first one. I thought bombs were going off every so often, as the same building was bombed about seven years ago.

We all ran again, looking back which way the building would fall. It was pretty much like the first time except not knowing what would happen. I ran about four blocks; then I started looking for a phone to let my wife know I was alright. She was about 14 miles away at another market. People were trying to use their cell phones. I asked to use one to call, but everybody said they didn’t work. Not all the phones were working then. I was told World Trade Building #1 had a cell phone tower, and it was damaged. There were lots of phone booths, but they had lines from 8 to 20 people waiting in line.

People were crying, pointing at the burning building, saying I have family in there! It looked impossible to get out from the upper 20 to 30 floors above the fire. Some people were running into each other’s arms when they saw someone got out that they knew, saying "Thank God, you’re safe!"

Finally, I kept going uptown. At Canal Street, about 15 blocks away, I got on the Underground Train for uptown. We went to 14th Street. Then all the people had to get out; all train service was stopped. It was about 10:30. I started walking again. The streets were full of people walking, almost all businesses were closed, no one was laughing or joking, a lot were crying. I heard sayings, "God is punishing us because we are too lax; we have to change our ways." It was a heart-rending experience!

Finally, I got on the city bus. I was on there about one and one half hours, but I did not get far. There was very little talk on the bus. It was crowded, with about 28 people standing. At traffic lights people tried to get on, but we were loaded. After a while, I decided to get off and walk. At about 12:00 noon, I got to our second market. I wanted to catch a ride over to where my wife was, but no farmers were in sight at the second market. They said the market was closed at about 10:00 am, so I kept walking. At about 3:30, I got to the market where my wife was; they were just about to leave when they saw me coming. I got the feeling my wife was glad to see me. We started home at 4:00 and got home with no other problems. What a day this was!

In Conclusion

The events of September 11, 2001 helped focus all Americans on the importance of freedom in our lives. Many stories from Amish history illustrate one of the most important of those freedoms, the freedom of religion. Sadly, as we look around the world today, the ethnic, political, and religious intolerance of people who are "different" continue to haunt us, just as they did hundreds of years ago. This is a cancer yet to be cured in our modern age. Although the Amish struggle to be "not of this world," they are not immune to its illnesses. As one contemporary Amish author has written...

Men and women struggled to know the will of God, and to live it. True faith in the sixteenth century was not easy. Nor is it easy today in the twentieth century. The cost is still the same --- whole-hearted devotion and obedience to God. Temptations have not lessened, nor even changed, in 400 years. The decisions of our forefathers are the decisions that we face today.

Part 8: SCHOOL SHOOTINGS, 2006 --- One Year Later

 “Amazing Grace”

When this series was originally written, it concluded with the words of an Amishman who as at the World Trade Center on the day it was attacked. While this event was an act against all Americans, not the Amish, it brought home the point that the Amish are not isolated from problems both international and local. This became horribly apparent when something happened to the Amish in Lancaster County that no one could have ever imagined...

The West Nickel Mines School tragedy of October 2, 2006 was something unthinkable. Right after the shooting of these innocent little girls, calls came into us from CBC Toronto, FOX-TV, CNN London, ABC Nightline, BBC Radio Scotland, Inside Edition, Larry King Live, and various newspapers and radio stations. We declined any interviews, and referred them to our local visitors bureau. They handled the situation with sensitivity, and found an appropriate spokesman within the Anabaptist community. We also immediately received emails from people wanting to get messages of condolence to the Amish. Several hundred came in, and they were delivered to the families through an Amish minister.

During all this, people learned some things about the Amish other than their plain clothes and horse and buggy transportation. For example, the strong support system that a close-knit family and community provide, the power of their faith, and their belief in forgiveness. (One Amishman told me his first very human reaction was anger, but now he was struggling to forgive.) Many people were not aware of the close interaction between the Amish and non-Amish here, where many Amish serve in volunteer fire departments. The actions of officials, volunteers, medical teams, police and local government showed understanding and respect. One year later the healing, both physical and emotional, continues.

Many of us seemed preoccupied for an explanation of why this happened. There really was no way to make sense of this senseless act. As an Amish mother once said, "All the time the question 'Why?' comes to our minds. But we should not expect to be able to understand everything in this life, and should never put a question mark where God has put a period." Little children were promised the kingdom of heaven.

One Amishman said that the first shock was the act itself, something they could never have expected. The second shock was the support of so many people the Amish did not even know. Thousands of letters poured into the community, including over $4,000,000 in donations from individuals and corporations. (A third of this has been used for surgeries, physical therapy, transportation, and counseling, with some of the funds also given to the family of the shooter.) The Amish had, inadvertently, sent quite a message to our "outside world" by the way they handled this tragedy, with great compassion and amazing grace.

The original school is gone, demolished on October 12, 2006. After the funerals were over and the media attention died down, the pupils were encouraged to come to informal school sessions at an Amish property. The five girls who died were buried in a small cemetery near Nickel Mines.

Now a new school stands in a new location. Appropriately named the New Hope Amish School, it opened on April 2, 2007, exactly six months after the shooting. The Amish tried to make it as "different" as possible, even down to the flooring. The new school was visited by some of those related to the tragedy, including State troopers and the shooter's widow, who has re-married and still lives in the county with her three children.

Local news media reported that four of the five surviving girls have returned to school, while the fifth girl has not, and is still confined to a wheelchair. Three of the families who lost daughters have had new babies, and the family that lost two girls had a baby boy in September. It will remain, of course, a difficult road ahead for all, but it is a new beginning.

At least three books about the tragedy have been published recently. The best is AMISH GRACE. The book looks at the response of the world to the "forgiveness" shown by the Amish. We English were often stunned to see the compassion shown by them to the widow and her children. The Amish were doing what they believed their faith told them to do, but it did not seem "normal" to many onlookers in the often violent world around them. As the authors of AMISH GRACE conclude....

"...one message rings clear: religion was not used to justify rage and revenge but to inspire goodness, forgiveness, and grace. And that is the big lesson for the rest of us regardless of our faith or nationality."

As the holiday season approaches, we would all do well to reflect upon these words. The world would surely be a better place if the message of peace and forgiveness could spread as quickly and effectively as news of the shooting did just over a year ago.

Amish Country News Article by Brad Igou

Return to the Amish Series page.

Return to Amish Country News Home

 

 

All contents of this Amish Country News Web site are Copyright © 2006 by Roncki, Inc. All brand names and trademarks are acknowledged as belonging to their respective owners.        This page last updated: February 21, 2010