On October 2, 2006 Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages at West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, and eventually shot and killed five girls (aged 6-13) before taking his own life in the schoolhouse. At the center of this tragedy was the Amish community’s response and willingness to forgive the gunman.
A member of a nearby neighborhood, Jack Meyer, said “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.” Additionally, one Amish man held Robert’s sobbing father in his arms, for as long as an hour to comfort him according to some reports.
The impact of their act of forgiveness was powerful on a local and national level. Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
Some people criticized the Amish for forgiving the killer. However, their willingness to practice a radical and unconditional type of forgiveness had a transformative and healing effect on not only the killer’s family but also on them and because of the national media attention, their forgiveness also had a similar healing effect on parts of the world at large. Forgiveness is not necessarily for the person you are forgiving. It is for you because the moment you forgive someone, you are actually healing yourself on a conscious and unconscious level by letting go of anger, grievances or resistance that might be weighing you down.