Resuming classesL New schoolhouse ready for Amish students who survived deadly rampage 6 months ago

Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Children played basketball Monday at the newly-reopened schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa. The school replaces the razed West Nickel Mines Amish School where a gunman killed five students and himself in October 2006. (Matt Rourke ~ Associated Press)

NICKEL MINES, Pa. -- Amish children carrying lunch pails arrived at a new one-room schoolhouse Monday morning, marking a fresh beginning for students who survived the shooting that killed five classmates last fall.

The New Hope Amish School sits a few hundred yards from the spot where the killings took place. Built by the entire community, the school is protected by more sophisticated locks on its doors and is reachable only by a private drive.

"For an Amish one-room schoolhouse, this one is spectacular," said Bart Township zoning officer John Coldiron.

It replaces the West Nickel Mines Amish School, which was torn down Oct. 12. Ten days earlier, milk truck driver Charles Carl Roberts IV shot 10 girls inside the school and then committed suicide as police closed in.

Retired teacher Dan Baughman said students were excited about the new school. They had been attending class in a garage-type building since the shooting.

Children were seen on their way to the newly-constructed schoolhouse. Amish students who survived the shooting that killed five of their classmates moved into the new building Monday, six months to the day after the massacre.

"They're elated that they have a new school but nevertheless it's going to bring back forcefully that day six months ago," said Baughman, 81, who has lived in the community since the 1960s.

The building does not have electricity or a phone but is bright inside due to skylights and windows, Coldiron said. He said it sits behind a row of non-Amish homes, providing a way to quickly summon help in an emergency. The phone is notable because during the rampage, a teacher had to run to a neighboring farm to call 911.

At the front of the building is a steel door that locks from the inside.

A state police vehicle was parked at the end of the driveway Monday, and no trespassing signs had been posted along the main road.

The new school's construction costs were paid for in part with a portion of more than $4 million in donations to the Nickel Mines Accountability Committee, the primary organization collecting donations on behalf of the victims.

Donations, some sent directly to the school board, have also helped provide care for the five wounded girls who survived.

Four of the five have returned to school. The fifth, a 6-year-old, needs a feeding tube and is not able to communicate, according to Mike Hart of the Bart Township Fire Department, who is also a committee member.

Roberts' widow, Marie, and their three children have moved from their home in the village of Georgetown, about a mile from the shooting, to another community within Lancaster County, according to Hart.

Charles Roberts, apparently tormented by an unconfirmed memory of having molested relatives 20 years earlier, and by the 1997 death of his own infant daughter, shot and killed himself as police reached the school.

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