A New School Rises on the Faith of the Amish

By Monica Von Dobeneck
Religion News Service
Saturday, January 27, 2007

NICKEL MINES, Pa. -- An Amish one-room schoolhouse is rising here in a field at the end of a private drive behind a row of houses.

Half-a-dozen men were working on the construction on a recent afternoon, within walking distance of the site of the school where a gunman shot 10 Amish girls Oct. 2, killing five of them.

An Amish man who did not give his name said the construction crew expected to open the school in March but would not comment further. The Amish community knocked down the original schoolhouse Oct. 12.

"We just want to be left alone," he said.

Nickel Mines became the center of worldwide media attention after Charles C. Roberts IV, 32, lined up 10 girls and shot them after releasing the boys in the school. He then killed himself.

The boys and four of the surviving girls are attending classes in a garage. The fifth girl is unable to attend because of her injuries.

Mike Hart, treasurer of the Nickel Mines Accountability Committee, said Amish families whose children attended the old school will bring them to the construction site while the building is going up to ease the transition to the new school.

"From what I've heard, it's a bittersweet thing," Hart said. "This is the final part of the process of moving on."

At the nearby Bart Township Volunteer Fire Co., 60 percent of the firefighters are Amish, but they don't talk about the shootings much, Chief H. Curtis "Hen" Woerth said.

"It's been a tough couple of months. We're just trying to move on," he said. "I would say this is a new start, a way to leave the past behind. . . . Their strong faith has gotten them through it."

A "comfort quilt" hangs in front of the firehouse. It was made by schoolchildren in Ohio who sent it to children affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York. From there, it went to comfort children affected by Hurricane Katrina. Now it is in Nickel Mines.

Woerth said it will be passed on if there is another national tragedy affecting children, so for that reason, he hopes it never leaves.

Hart said contributions are trickling into the Accountability Committee from people around the world who were touched by the shootings and the Amish reaction to them, which included forgiving the gunman and welcoming his widow.

The $3.6 million raised is being used for medical bills, counseling and transportation for the affected families. Some of the money will go toward the schoolhouse.

"The Amish school board has not presented us with the bills yet, but we don't want that to be a burden to anyone," Hart said.

Hart said he hopes the world doesn't forget the Amish message of forgiveness.

Monica Von Dobeneck writes for the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

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