Forgiving a mass murderer: the Amish
I want to tell you a story about forgiveness. It’s begins with the murder of five Amish school girls, and the critical wounding of five others, at a one room Amish school house in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, USA, on October 2, 2006.
The girls, the oldest of whom was thirteen, were murdered by a demented local man named Charles Carl Roberts IV, who brought with him to the schoolhouse a semi-automatic pistol, six hundred rounds of ammunition, a shotgun, a stun gun, plastic ties to use as handcuffs, sexual lubricant, and a board with nails to barricade the school door shut. The teacher managed to slip out the side door almost immediately and ran for help; three policemen arrived within minutes. Ten more police arrived several minutes later. Negotiations were brief. Hearing shots from inside they stormed the school. Roberts had shot himself in the head, but not before shooting the ten girls.
That evening, three Amish men went to visit Amy Roberts, Roberts’ widow, who was staying with her parents. “We just talked with them for about ten minutes to express our sorrow and told them we didn’t hold anything against them,” said one of the Amish visitors (Kraybill, p 44). Several miles away, an Amish man went to see Carl Roberts’ s father, spending about an hour with him. A spokesman for the Roberts family later said “He stood there for an hour, and he held that man [Mr. Roberts] in his arms and said, `We forgive you.'” Presumably Mr. Roberts’ father did not need forgiveness in any of the ways we ordinarily understand the term today, but perhaps that was not as important as the visit and the holding.