Image: Amish school massacre
Tom Kelly Iv  /  Daily Local New via AP
Members of the Amish community, faculty and family members from the Virginia Tech shootings, and first responders from Lancaster county walk Monday in Nickel Mines, Pa., to attend a gathering to mark the one-year anniversary of a massacre at a one-room schoolhouse nearby.
updated 10/2/2007 7:41:49 AM ET 2007-10-02T11:41:49

Whoops from a children’s baseball game and the singing of hymns rang in the air on the eve of the first anniversary of one of the Amish community’s worst moments.

In keeping with Amish custom, no public observances were planned for Tuesday’s anniversary, although local Amish families held a private gathering on Monday to mark the occasion.

West Nickel Mines Amish School, the scene of a gunman’s massacre that left five girls dead and five others wounded one year ago, has long since been razed and replaced with overgrown pasture, in part to prevent it from being treated as some sort of shrine or becoming a morbid tourist attraction.

The Amish invited state police troopers and some neighbors to join them in prayer, singing of hymns, a meal of barbecued chicken and a sunny afternoon of watching a ball game.

“I think they still have some hurt,” said Bart Township Fire Department Chief Curt Woerth II. “We could say some prayers for the children and their families this week, because it’s going to bring back some memories.”

Officials from Virginia Tech were also invited to attend. Four months after the massacre at that school, members of the Amish community traveled to Blacksburg, Va., to pass along a comfort quilt.

Woerth said he would spend time on Tuesday at the fire hall that served as a community nerve center for weeks after the attack. The Amish were expected to pass the day quietly with their families, and the wider community also scheduled no public event for the anniversary.

‘Never far from our hearts’
A year ago, milk truck driver Charlie Roberts, 32, the son of a police officer and father of three young children, suddenly commandeered the one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania Dutch farm country.

Roberts, who had no criminal or mental-illness history, apparently was tormented by the death of his infant daughter in 1997 and by a memory of having molested two female relatives about 20 years earlier — a memory that investigators have never been able to substantiate.

The ordeal in the schoolhouse lasted about 40 minutes from when Roberts entered the building at 10:25 a.m. until he shot the girls in rapid succession at 11:05 a.m. Two and a half minutes after the shots rang out, state police were able to breach his makeshift barricades and enter the school just as he committed suicide.

On Monday, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller attended the Amish gathering and said there was nowhere he would rather have been. “I wanted to share with them that they’re never far from our hearts,” Miller said.

Four of the five wounded girls were able to return to classes by December, but the fifth is confined to a wheelchair and is fed by a tube. One of the girls had surgery recently to repair damage to her arm and shoulder, while another has vision problems because of her gunshot wound.

Amid cheers and laughter on Monday, some children played a marathon baseball game on a ball diamond constructed next to their new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope Amish School, while others raced scooters along the driveway and waved to passers-by.

There were no classes held Monday and the school was expected to remain closed Tuesday.

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