Amish extend hand to family of schoolhouse killer
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PARADISE, Pa. -- Cards and donations have been pouring into the Paradise Post Office outside Nickel Mines since Monday's schoolhouse massacre -- and they aren't just for the victims.
Even before they had finished burying their five slain children, the Amish did the unthinkable: They established a fund for the family of the man who lined their daughters up against a chalkboard, bound their feet and shot them, one after another.
Aware that outsiders already had begun taking collections for their children, Amish elders set up a nine-member accountability committee to see that the funds are spent responsibly.
The committee's first order of business? To ensure that the three children of Charles Carl Roberts IV were taken care of, too, said Scott Sundberg, director of communications for the Mennonite Disaster Service.
Committee members declined to comment directly, but Mr. Sundberg issued a statement from one elder: "Who will take care of their family? It's not right if we get $1,000 and they get $5. We must set something up for these children's education."
Mr. Roberts and his wife, Marie, have a 7-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old son and an infant son, family friends and neighbors have said.
"These are innocent victims. It's not their fault, it's not their doing and they'll be going through some suffering and grieving," said Elmer Stoltzfus, an Amish bishop from another part of Lancaster County. He is not related to shooting victim Anna Mae Stoltzfus and is not directly involved with the collections.
The Amish may be thinking of the Roberts children, but the rest of the world is concentrating its efforts on those who attended Nickel Mines School.
Yesterday 5,586 letters passed through the Paradise Post Office, up 913 from the previous Friday, said Postmaster Andrea Eckert. More than 250 of those envelopes were addressed to the Coatesville Savings Bank, most designated for the Nickel Mines Children's Fund, but there were some for the Roberts Family Fund, too, she said.
Another 70 pieces were addressed generically to "the Amish community" or "the Nickel Mines families." That mail will be forwarded to the Bart Township Fire Co., which will distribute it to families.
The influx of mail -- which is expected to increase even more in the coming days -- has kept Ms. Eckert busy, along with her two carriers and postal clerk.
"In a small way, we are proud to be able to deliver the outpouring of condolences and sympathy. It's sad, very sad, but it is amazing to see this outpouring. It's coming from just about every state," she said.
The support isn't just coming from American soil, either.
While it was too soon for international mail to have arrived, fund organizers have received inquiries from as far as Germany, Vietnam and Argentina.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, donations were being accepted at dozens of bank branches, convenience stores and shopping malls.
The money will be used for expenses including medical care and the transportation of families to see children hospitalized in Philadelphia and Hershey.
The Anabaptist Foundation, which is assisting with collections at several Pennsylvania banks, received $14,623 in two days. Yesterday's collections had not yet been tallied by afternoon, when tellers were still wading through some 500 pieces of mail, said foundation director Rich Lauer.
"The Amish are not asking for the funds, but they know they can be used well, and that sending them is part of the healing of other people," Mr. Lauer said. "We all hurt and we all grieve [for them] and people want to do something. People think, 'At least I can send money.' "
The donations have put the Amish in unfamiliar territory. These are a people so intent on taking care of their own that most do not participate in insurance plans or government sponsored programs such as Social Security.
If a barn burns down, the community rebuilds it. If someone is sick, the community cares for them, runs their farms while they recuperate, and pays their medical bills.
"There are not often opportunities when the outside community comes into their circles and has an opportunity to offer meaningful help," Mr. Lauer said. "They are in a position they haven't had occasion to be in before."
The Amish are as grateful for the help as they are unaccustomed to it, Mr. Stoltzfus said.
"It's been a lesson in receiving help graciously. It's part of life and it's a lesson we all need," he said.
Checks to the Nickel Mines Children's Fund and the Roberts Family Fund are being accepted at Coatesville Savings Bank, 1082 Georgetown Road, Paradise, PA 17562.
Donations also can be sent to the Mennonite Disaster Service, 1018 Main St., Akron, PA 17501. Write "Amish School Recovery Fund" in the memo field. For more information, visit www.mds.mennonite.net.
Cards to victims' families may be sent to Nickel Mines Children, Bart Township Fire Co., Box 72, Bart, PA 17503.
First Published October 7, 2006 12:00 am