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Arizona Shooting Massacre Brings Need for Healing, Lesson in Forgiveness

  • Amish-women-mourn.jpg

    Oct. 4, 2006: Amish women stand along the fence at the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pa., mourning the loss of five school girls who were shot and killed at the one-room school by gunman Charles Carl Roberts (AP).

  • makeshiftmemoria.jpg

    AP

President Obama and the Arizona community came together Wednesday night to begin to heal a nation devastated by the shooting massacre that left 6 dead and 14 wounded outside a Tucson supermarket.

For one community rocked by similar tragedy, the healing came after the parents of 10 young girls shot execution-style inside their one-room Amish schoolhouse offered their forgiveness.

When Charles Carl Roberts stormed the West Nickel Mines School on Oct. 2, 2006, shooting 10 children at point-blank range, the first sign of healing came from what many considered an unlikely source – the victims' families.

In an extraordinary act of compassion, the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pa., including the girls' parents, forgave the shooter and offered support for his family. The Nickel Mines Accountability Committee, set up to manage $5 million in donations to the surviving girls, also gave money to the gunman's wife, Marie Roberts, and her children.

"It meant everything to us," Roberts' grandmother, Teresa Neustadter, said in an interview with FoxNews.com. "There aren't words to describe it."

Neustadter, 84, said she was at home when she learned that Roberts, a 32-year-old milk truck driver, shot the girls, ages 6 to 13, in front of a blackboard before killing himself.

"We just cried and cried," she said. "We were in such a state of shock. There were no warning signs for us."

Before opening fire on the children, Roberts said he was angry at God for the November 1997 death of his infant daughter. He also said he was driven by memories of molesting two young relatives 20 years ago, a claim that was never substantiated.

"He was delusional," Neustadter said. "And he just kept everything inside."

Neustadter said that in the weeks and months following the shooting, the Amish community reached out in an outpouring of "love and support." She said a "good contact" still remains between the families of Roberts and the victims.

"It was a healing process for everyone," she said, "It was a two-way street."

Marie Roberts, who declined to be interviewed and has since remarried, thanked the Amish community for their "forgiveness, grace and mercy" in an open letter in 2006.

"Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need," wrote Roberts. "Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe…Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."

Herman Bontrager, the community's spokesman at the time of the tragedy, said the act of forgiveness is "deeply engrained" in the Amish, who are descendants of Swiss-German settlers.

"It’s their religious foundation," he said. "As a close-knit community, you cannot have harmony if hostilities fester among people. You need to address them openly and honestly and that means forgiving. It's a vital part of social cohesion."

But, Bontrager noted, "Forgiveness is a journey. It's not just an event."

In Tucson, four days after 22-year-old Jared Loughner allegedly opened fire outside a Safeway supermarket, the reactions from the victims' families are varied – with some offering forgiveness and others calling for the death penalty.

The parents of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who died from a single bullet wound to the chest, hold different views.

"My wife is very forgiving in that regard," John Green said in an interview Sunday with CBS News. "I'm a little about the Old West. It's a fairly clear-cut case, and I'm a fan of capital punishment in this regard."

Others -- like Penny Wilson, whose mother Mavanell "Mavy" Stoddard also was shot -- have declined to share their feelings on the gunman and his family.

Loughner's parents broke their silence Tuesday night, saying, "We don't understand why this happened."

"It may not make any difference, but we wish that we could change the heinous events of Saturday," Randy and Amy Loughner said in a statement to the press. "We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss."

"I know he's gone through hell," Neustadter said of Loughner's father. "I wonder if anyone's helping him like the Amish helped us."

"I think it would be good if they did," she said, "But I don’t know the situation. I don't know what happened leading up to this."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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