Amish Reluctantly Accept Donations

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 5, 2006; 7:11 PM

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The deadly attack in a one-room Amish schoolhouse has fueled an outpouring of sympathy and offers of financial assistance for the community that generally rejects help from outsiders.

"For the Amish community, it's a bit overwhelming because they are not actively asking for any funds," said Scott Sundberg, spokesman for Mennonite Disaster Service, an agency collecting pledges on behalf of the Amish. "They know this is at least one way that people can show their concern."

In the attack, Charles Carl Roberts IV, the 32-year-old milk truck driver, took over the West Nickel Mines Amish School, sent the adults and boys out and bound the 10 remaining girls at the blackboard. Investigators said he might have been planning to sexually assault the girls before police closed in. He shot the girls and killed himself. Five girls died and a sixth victim was reported in grave condition Thursday.

Three victims died the day of the shooting, and two others died within 24 hours. Besides the victim clinging to life, four others are in the hospital with serious injuries.

Amish do not carry private commercial health insurance, and the families of the victims could face steep medical bills, said Richie Lauer, director of the Anabaptist Foundation, another agency collecting funds.

However, the Amish of Lancaster County do have their own informal self-insured health plan, called Church Aid, which helps members with catastrophic medical expenses, according to Donald Kraybill, an Amish expert at Elizabethtown College. About two-thirds of the Amish enroll, he said.

Hospital officials declined Thursday to provide any information about medical expenses, citing the families' request for privacy.

Calls have come in from across the United States and Canada as far away as Argentina, Germany and Vietnam asking how to help the victims' families.

Capital BlueCross pledged $500,000 to help pay the survivors' medical expenses, while 20 missionary churches in Africa have each promised to contribute $1, according to Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service.

As of Thursday, the agency had received about 200 credit-card donations _ in amounts ranging from $20 to $100 _ for a total of $15,000, said Ron Guenther, the agency's director of finance.

"It's not big monies at this point, but that could easily change," said Guenther, especially since a number of corporations have contacted the agency about donating.

Wal-Mart has started coin drops at three of its Lancaster County stores and all 238 Turkey Hill Minit Market convenience stores in Pennsylvania are accepting donations, as are numerous regional banks.

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