NICKEL MINES, Pa. – Young Amish children piled into a miniature horse-drawn wagon that turned down a narrow lane Monday, quietly making their way to a secluded farmhouse where they would gather to remember five girls killed in a suicidal gunman’s schoolhouse rampage a year ago today.
From both directions on Mine Road others followed, mainly in silence: a father carrying a straw hat-clad son, young boys pushing up the road on red scooters, a mother walking hand-in-hand with her daughter, teenage girls behind the reins of a horse-drawn cart. Dozens arrived by foot, buggy, wagon and passenger van, some coming past the pasture where the demolished West Nickel Mines Amish School once stood. One family, dressed in black in keeping with the Amish’s year-long mourning for the death of an immediate relative, walked across a field from the Miller farm, where a family lost two girls.
From an outsider’s perspective, life appears to have returned to normal in Nickel Mines. Children attend school, fathers harvest fields, mothers hang laundry out to dry. But inside the close-knit community, Amish and their neighbors said they have had to find a new normal.
“They are getting help from each other, they are getting professional help,” said Herman Bontrager, a Mennonite businessman and spokesman for the Nickel Mines Amish. “The loss is something that will be with them for life, and they aren’t trying to get over it.”
School was closed Monday so families could visit and, as for the past year, take strength from one another.
They came to the Ebersol farm Monday to join with law enforcement officials for prayer and fellowship. The five survivors attended, as did Virginia Tech officials and relatives who lost loved ones in the campus shooting. The Nickel Mines Amish reached out to the university mourners following the spring shooting, traveling to Virginia to deliver a quilt.