Amish School House Massacre: A Tale of Grace and Forgiveness

Five years ago tomorrow, a 32-year-old man walked into a small Amish school house and, in cold blood, killed five innocent people and wounded five more.

He then turned his gun on himself.

The story headlined national news for over a week, and, five years later, the tragedy still lingers in America’s memory.

Meanwhile, for my part, I have a very odd relationship to the story.

I was there, at that very school, the day before it happened.

On October 1st, 2006, I was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania speaking at a church within miles of the school house where the massacre took place.

When I had arrived in Pennsylvania that day, the host of the event drove me through Amish country en route to his house.

I had never been in Amish country before, thus my only exposure to Amish culture was based on the covers of Beverly Lewis novels or scenes from Harrison Ford’s Witness and/or the Farrelly brother’s King Pin.

And because it was so new to me, I took very close attention to my surroundings as we rode through.

As we drove past a small school house, I distinctly remember asking my host, “Is that their school?”

He nodded.

I continued staring at the building, and as I did, a woman in a black dress suddenly walked out. “I imagine that’s a teacher,” I said.

“Likely,” he responded.

I spoke at the man’s church that evening, flew back the next morning, and, once home, flipped on my television to see images of the very school I’d looked at and inquired about the day before.

That night, like the rest of the country, I sat glued to my TV, amazed at the display of grace and forgiveness the Amish community displayed. I couldn’t stop wondering if the woman in the black dress– the woman I had seen just the day before with my own eyes— had been one of the victims.

I still wonder.

Now, five years later, it’s still impossible to rap my mind around how such unspeakable evil can exist. It’s also still difficult to imagine being able to forgive someone for something so heinous.

I read something yesterday that put it all in better perspective for me, though.

I read how the shooter’s mother, Terri Roberts, goes every week to visit the bedside of her son’s most damaged living victim—a school girl who, now 11, was left paralyzed by the shooting.

The story is profoundly moving, and it speaks of an inner strength that is hard to fathom.

While reading, I kept wondering how difficult it must be to go through life being the parent of a “monster.” I’ve thought about this before regarding Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine shooters, and how it must be difficult for their parents to get out of bed in the morning; how it must be impossible for them to face anyone in the streets.

This woman, though, through her faith, has found a way to reconcile her shame at what her son did with her natural love for him as her son.

Meanwhile, the Amish community—and even her son’s victims and their families—have embraced her.

It is a story of humility and forgiveness on both sides, one that teaches us that none of us is beyond redemption, and also, that none of us is above grace.