The Amish Schoolhouse Shooting Taught Me How Christian Love Overcomes Evil
At the age of six, like many other children growing up in the idyllic county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a school shooting and its aftermath became one of my earliest childhood memories. Though I remember very little of what occurred on October 2, 2006, the details I do recall are etched irrevocably into my mind. I remember our television showing the local news; the image of a one-room Amish schoolhouse and police officers painting the screen made little sense to me.
That morning, a local man had placed his children on the school bus and kissed his wife goodbye. Then he drove to West Nickel Mines Amish School. At gunpoint, he ordered the adult women and boys to leave. He told the little Amish girls in the schoolhouse, “I’m angry at God and I need to punish some Christian girls to get even with him.” The oldest girl, a particularly brave angel named Marian, told the shooter to kill her and leave the others alone. He proceeded to shoot them all, ultimately killing five of them, before turning the gun on himself.
The story of the Amish schoolhouse shooting is universally remembered and mourned each year in Lancaster County. As a teenager, I would encounter former emergency room nurses who could recall every moment of October 2, 2006, and knew it as the worst day of their lives — as a day when profound evil rocked our community to the core. As an adult, I would learn that the shooter believed he was taking out his revenge against God by killing little Christian girls because his first daughter died shortly after birth, and he never properly coped with the loss.
I didn’t know any of this as we wept by the TV in our living room in 2006 — but I knew enough. I knew that a very bad man had done a terrible thing. I knew that we needed to pray for the people he had hurt. And, though I could not have put it into words, I knew that the bad man was no victim.
In the few days since a trans-identifying shooter opened fire at The Covenant School in Nashville, killing six Christians, including three nine-year-olds, the media has been quick to spin tales of victimhood on behalf of the murderer. She was “under care for an emotional disorder;” she targeted Christians only because her Christian parents had “rejected her” because of her “trans identity.”
There is no backstory tragic enough to justify choosing murder over seeking professional mental health assistance. Anyone casting blame on the Nashville shooter’s parents for standing firm in their Christian faith rather than affirming a lie is minimizing the evil done by the murderer. The Amish schoolhouse shooter’s prior trauma earned him no sympathy in Lancaster County; neither should identifying as rejected or transgender earn sympathy for the Nashville shooter.
West Nickel Mines poignantly reminds us never to victimize school shooters — but there is another worthy lesson to be learned from this story.
The impact of the shooting was devastating within the tightly knit Amish community. Yet, within hours of the massacre, a group of Amish arrived on the doorstep of the shooter’s in-laws to find his widow and children — not for vengeance, but to extend the gift of grace.
In the days that followed, the Amish protected and cared for the innocent family left behind. Not only did the number of Amish outnumber the non-Amish attendees at the shooter’s funeral, but the Amish even physically shielded the widow and children from the cameras of the media — a sacrifice that locals understand to be of profound proportions, given Amish teachings about avoiding having their pictures taken. Said Marie, the widow, “It was one of those moments during the week where my breath was taken away, but not because of the evil. But because of the love.”
The Amish didn’t allow the shooter to have the final word. They seized his act of unimaginable evil and transformed it into an act of mercy so powerful that it is impossible to tell the story of the Amish schoolhouse shooting without also proclaiming the love of Jesus that shined through the Amish community in the season that followed.
We must not allow the name and images of the sickening shooter to dominate the legacy of the Covenant School. Instead, let’s remember Evelyn Dieckhaus, who courageously tried to pull a fire alarm to save her classmates. Let’s honor the brave officers who demanded that one another “keep pushing” until they had eliminated the shooter within four minutes of police entering the school. Let’s immortalize the story of heroic school head Katherine Koonce, who ran towards the sound of gunfire and laid down her life to protect her students. As we weep with those who weep, let the stories of Christian love drown out every other narrative, overcoming evil with good.