Anger Management: Looking Back on the Amish School Shooting

From “Anger Management,” an article I published in October 2007. What happens when our nation is scandalized by forgiveness?  Why would you forgive your child’s murderer?  How? Crazy Christianity…or does it make hard, holy sense?

On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts, a man “angry with life … angry with God,” walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and took everyone inside hostage at gunpoint. He forced the boys to unload a strange assortment of supplies from his pick-up truck—guns, lumber, chains, nails, a change of clothes, plastic ties and rope, and KY Jelly. Then he lined up ten young girls by the chalkboard, ordered everyone else out of the building, barricaded the doors, tied the girls up, and, after a couple of fevered calls to his wife and to police, began shooting, execution style. Five of the girls were killed, the rest were wounded, and finally, Roberts killed himself. 

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(photo credit)

The media sensation that followed wasn’t a surprise—after all, “if it bleeds, it leads”—although the added horror of a gunman targeting quiet, Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking Amish girls as young as six years-old seemed to echo a new depth in the well of human depravity. But what really kept the story in the public eye longer than usual was a deeper, more thought-provoking shock: the repeated statements from the Amish that they weren’t angry, and their offers of forgiveness to the dead gunman and help to his family. These included:

A grandfather crouching by slain Marian Fisher, 20 bullets in her body—one of two girls who pleaded with Roberts to “shoot me first”—and telling the other children, “You must not hate this man.”

The Amish community—including the parents of those who had died—visiting the killer’s wife and child, offering forgiveness and financial help. Many later attended a memorial service for Roberts.

An Amish woman interviewed by CNN, stating quietly but confidently, “Oh no no no, definitely not, we’re not angry. We just don’t do that here.”

The national conversation that followed—was it a brilliant example of Christian love in action? Was it psychologically warped? Both? …   Read the rest here.

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