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Shocking Forgiveness

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2017 30 Nov

A pure white dove is about to land on a branch with rusty orange colored leaves.

It’s an early morning in October, and a mother is busy preparing for the day ahead—making breakfast and getting her children ready for school. As she kisses each child good-bye, she has no idea of the tragedy that looms. Later that day a man will break into her daughter’s school just after morning recess. This man will leave behind a suicide note explaining his anger at God at the death of his infant daughter, perhaps as a twisted explanation for the crimes he is about to commit.

Dismissing the boys, along with some others who are visiting the school, he orders the remaining children—ten girls between the ages of six and thirteen—to lie facedown on the floor of the schoolroom. Then he binds their ankles with wire and plastic ties. According to a surviving younger sister, the oldest girl asks the gunman to shoot her first, hoping he will spare the others. At 11:07 a.m. he begins shooting. When it is all over, Charles Carl Roberts IV has killed himself and five young girls.

Here’s how the deputy coroner of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, described the mayhem inside that school: “There was not one desk, not one chair, in the whole schoolroom that was not splattered with either blood or glass. There were bullet holes everywhere, everywhere.”

What would you or I do if we had been the mother of a child who had been murdered at the Old Order Amish West Nickel Mines School? I might have responded with bitterness or a desire for vengeance. But one mother shocked the world by joining others in her community in forgiving the murderer and extending grace to his family. To make it real, she attended his funeral and sent meals and flowers to his widow.

Where does a mother get the grace and courage to do something like that? At the foot of the cross of the extraordinary man who said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).