Without Forgiveness, There's No Room Left for Love

By Pacatte, Rose | National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

Without Forgiveness, There's No Room Left for Love


Pacatte, Rose, National Catholic Reporter


On Oct. 2, 2006, the country was shocked by the news that a lone gunman had entered an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and shot 10 Amish girls aged 6 to 13. Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, an "English" (non-Amish) milkman known to the children, shot the girls and then turned the gun on himself. Five of the girls died and the other five were seriously injured.

But we were in for an even greater shock: The Amish community, including the families of the dead and wounded children, forgave Roberts. They visited his wife, Marie, and offered their condolences to her and the couple's three children.

As the Amish buried their daughters, the media watched. They questioned this deeply countercultural attitude of the Amish and were, at the same time, astonished.

The Lifetime Movie Network aired a film based on this tragedy, "Amish Grace," on Palm Sunday.

"Amish Grace" is a fictionalized account of the events that began on an ordinary autumn day.

Some artistic license is taken with the story. The film creates a conflict between Ida Graber (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), the mother of one of the victims; her husband, Gideon (Matt Letscher); and her faith. Ida's sister has left the Amish community after her baptism and is now shunned. Ida, unable to forgive the gunman, wants to leave and join her sister. This predicament questions and then attempts to answer our own non-Amish confusion at a seeming contradiction. How can the Amish forgive such grievous actions yet shun members of their own family and faith community? "The only way to explain the Amish attitude toward forgiveness was to take a character and have her go through what we would go through and confront those same issues," said the film's executive producer, Larry A. Thompson.

The film is inspired by the nonfiction book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Amish scholars Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher. "One Sunday morning," recounts Thompson, "I was watching Bill Movers talk about this amazing book and I ordered a copy right away. I spoke with Donald Kray-bill who told me film rights were available from the publisher, but because of the authors' close relationship with the Amish community, they would not be able to consult on the film.

"Out of respect for the Amish community, the characters are a composite of actual people. The only real persons named in the film are the gunman and Marian Fischer, the young girl who told him, 'Shoot me first.'"

Many will recall Peter Weir's 1985 Oscar-winning film "Witness," starring Harrison Ford as a cop who takes refuge with an Amish family and draws corrupt policemen and violence into the community. One deeply moving scene in "Amish Grace" is reminiscent of "Witness," when the Amish community of Nickel Mines walks all together down a hillside to join the Roberts family at the killer's funeral. …

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