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‘Lost Angels’ project

December 19, 2006

Last week, I curtailed my Britney Spears coverage due to my work on a special project for my newspaper, the Lancaster New Era. Something of much more serious tone than my usual drivel here.

Nickel Mines sign (AP)Now I can finally reveal the fruits of that labor.

But let me set it up for you with a little background on the project…

On the morning of Oct. 2, Charles Roberts walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in the small village of Nickel Mines, Pa. He told all the boys to leave the school, then barricaded the school doors with 2x4s, locking him inside with the Amish schoolgirls and his gun.

The teacher escaped, and ran to call for help at a nearby farm. Roberts had all the young girls stand at the front of the room facing the blackboard.

Then, as state police tried to intervene, Roberts shot each of the girls in the head. Then, he killed himself in the same manner.

Above, children are shown at Nickel Mines School on a happy day. The year was 1990. In photo below, Amish gather Thursday morning before dawn to watch the school, the site of a massacre on Oct. 2, be torn down. The building is gone, but not forgotten. (Lancaster Newspapers file photo)

Five of the girls died. The others are now home after long hospital stays, some with lifelong debilitating injuries.

The worldwide media covered this story with great interest and fascination, much like they did with the Columbine school massacre.

We, as the “hometown” paper for Lancaster County, extensively wrote about the incident, the coverage, the Amish community’s desire for privacy and respect and later, the Amish community’s forgiveness of Roberts and the sympathy they extended to his widow and children.

Lost Angels series logoLast week, the New Era ran a 3-day series in their paper called “Lost Angels: The Untold Stories of the Amish School Shootings.”

In it, five writers talked to families in the Amish community, the state police and others involved in the response to the tragedy.

They chronicled the live of Charles Roberts and whether there were signs that he could do this horrible act. They also painted a picture of the lives of the victims, and their families’ attempts to cope and heal with their loss.

My part of the project as the paper’s online journalist was to interview the five reporters — Ad Crable, Cindy Stauffer, Janet Kelley, Tom Murse and Jack Brubaker — and find out their reactions to the story and what they had found.

Memorial to the vicitms (AP)The interviews, along with an editorial commentary by New Era editor Ernest Schreiber, are all available as a podcast on iTunes or on any podcatching software. The audio is also available in six multimedia presentations on the Lost Angels project site at, complete with photos from the week’s events.

The site also holds the text from all six stories in the series, as well as related links to other sources for Amish societal research and a link for donations to the victims of the tragedy.

If you have suggestions for other types of content you’d like to see added to the project site, or have comments or thoughts to share with our readers at large, please go to our “letters to the editor” section of Lancaster Online and post your thoughts.  We appreciate your input.

I want to thank each writer and photographer for taking part in the series, which we hope is the definitive look at the Nickel Mines tragedy, and hopefully, will provide insight for our readers and the world as a whole.

Though the schoolhouse no longer stands, we hope the lessons of this tragedy will live on.

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