Pennsylvania's Amish won't ever forget what happened last fall, but they're determined not to let the tragedy define them, either
Emanuel King, 12, was hit by a car and killed while riding his push scooter. His family invited the driver, who had fallen asleep at the wheel, to their home to forgive her. "She came back for the viewing. She came back for the funeral," says Kraybill, choking up at the retelling.
Hard work. Karie Mitchell, charged with vehicular homicide, was scheduled to be arraigned March 28. But prosecutors should know not to expect the Amish to appear in court, says Curt Woerth. Woerth, Bart Township fire chief, says the Amish-who make up 60 percent of his company's volunteers-typically won't get involved in the legal system, in the same way they do not accept government assistance, including Social Security.
But both Kraybill and Bontrager of the accountability committee bristle at suggestions that the Amish are stoic, repressing feelings to conform to church expectations. "There's nothing miraculous about forgiveness-it's hard work," said Bontrager. At meetings of the accountability committee, which includes Amish deacons, he said, there has been a lot of weeping among grown men.
"One of them once said that on the previous day he had to start all over on this forgiveness thing," Bontrager said. And the process is not always perfect. Hileman, the Presbyterian minister, said she knows two people who say they were treated badly by Amish employers after the shooting-mainly because they were non-Amish, or "English," as the Amish refer to those not of their faith.
"The Amish are like anyone else-some take the forgiveness of Christ and pass it on to others and some don't," she said. "I think the Amish have reached out to [Roberts's widow] with love, but there are hypocrites in every religion of the world."
Still, said Hileman, who knows Marie Roberts through a women's prayer group, "they set an example that caused me, a Presbyterian minister, to examine my own life and ask, "Who haven't I forgiven?"
On the day of the shooting, the township firehouse became, by necessity, the response center. Dispatch and communications operations were created. Volunteers served as many as 900 meals twice a day to people who helped with traffic management, the press, local families, and those who just needed refuge. Bank accounts were established for donations to the victims, their families, and, at the insistence of the Amish, the Roberts family.
And for the months that followed, volunteers at the firehouse sorted through the avalanche of stuffed animals, quilts, money, afghans, cards, and letters-some simply addressed to "Amish Families, USA"-that arrived. "When you went down there in those first days," Bontrager said, "if it wouldn't have been for dress, you would not have known there were different cultures working there. In that sense, it was a wonderful experience."
Pennsylvania State Police Chief Col. Jeffrey Miller, who was on the scene the day of the shooting, said that he hoped the children did not die in vain: "I hope that people everywhere remember the example set by the Amish community and [will] be less confrontational in their own lives."