Poet, songwriter reflect on Nickel Mines tragedyBy Robert Rhodes Mennonite Weekly Review
Two Mennonite artists have taken the shock and horror of the Oct. 2 Amish school shootings and transformed them into evocative, deeply affecting works of reflection.
Poet Ann Hostetler, an English professor at Goshen (Ind.) College, recently completed a cycle of four “Sonnets for the Amish Girls of Nickel Mines.” Musician Carol Ann Weaver, a music professor at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont., has composed “Lobsang,” a song about the killings that she has performed with Canadian vocalist Rebecca Campbell.
Hostetler — whose father, the late sociologist John A. Hostetler, was raised Amish — said news of the shootings came as a great shock to her.
“I found it kind of unbelievable at first,” Hostetler said in a recent interview. “It was the same kind of shock as when one of my friends called me [on Sept. 11, 2001] and said one of the towers just went down.”
On hearing the news, Hostetler said, her mind quickly went to a visit she had made to an Amish school the year before with fellow poet B.H. Fairchild, who had been moved by the school’s “sacred” environment.
“It was just an unthinkably violent act,” Hostetler said of the shootings. “And to see how a stranger, an intruder came in and just violated that sacred space… . I just kept thinking of those little girls standing in front of that blackboard.”
During the incident, which claimed the lives of five Amish schoolgirls in Bart Township, Pa., milk truck driver Charles Carl Roberts IV bound 10 Amish girls and lined them up at the front of their classroom.
When Pennsylvania State Police attempted to storm the one-room building, which the gunman had barricaded, Roberts opened fire on the children. He committed suicide when state troopers, eluding a final blast from his shotgun, forced their way in.
Killed were Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12; Marian Fisher, 13; Mary Liz Miller, 8; and her sister, Lena Miller, 7. The five surviving children, all of them seriously wounded, face years of recovery and rehabilitation.
In her poems, Hostetler evokes the scene of fear in the schoolroom and the chaos the shootings brought into the quietly ordered Amish world.
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