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Groups respond to PA shooting

Many different faith traditions were offering prayers and other assistance to an Amish community after a school shooting this week.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 3, 2006

"What impresses me is how strong this community is in the face of terrible tragedy"

—Ken Sensenig, Mennonite Central Committee

Many different faith traditions were offering prayers and other assistance to an Amish community after a school shooting this week.

Two more girls shot at the one-room West Nickel Mines Amish School died Tuesday, raising the death toll to six - five children and the gunman. Five other girls were still hospitalized on Tuesday, four of them in critical condition.

The one-room schoolhouse is in the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) reported they are in contact with Amish community leaders and are offering support through a joint response. MCC and MDS are raising funds to support the community through an Amish School Recovery Fund. The money will help the affected community with medical care, transportation, supportive care and other needs, said Kevin King, MDS executive director.

Ken Sensenig, assistant director of MCC East Coast, visited Amish community members after the shooting and said he is observing their resilience and is impressed with their response.

Families banded together to provide emotional support and tend to immediate needs, such as milking cows while parents rushed to the hospital, Sensenig said. Many non-Amish neighbors helped by giving rides to hospitals.

"What impresses me is how strong this community is in the face of terrible tragedy," Sensenig said.

Meanwhile, a federal response was gearing up. The White House has called for a school violence summit to discuss possible federal action to help communities prevent and respond to violence.

The Lancaster County shooting was the third deadly school shooting in the U.S. in less than a week.

A 16-year-old schoolgirl was killed in Bailey, Colorado, last week when a gunman took six hostages at a school before opening fire and turning the gun on himself as police stormed a classroom.

Then the principal of a Wisconsin high school, shot by a student on Friday, died of his wounds a day later.

Pennsylvania is one state that has had its share of school violence. In April 2003, a 14-year-old boy fatally shot his school principal in the chest with one gun and then shot himself in the head with another in the Red Lion Area Junior High School cafeteria packed with students. This incident took place in York County, which borders Lancaster County. York County was also the site of a machete attack on a kindergarten class that wounded 11 children, the principal, and two teachers at Winterstown Elementary School in February 2001.

Faith-based groups have a history of responding to school shootings and other incidents of public violence. In 1999, several national faith-based disaster response groups began to train teams to respond in the wake of the school massacre in Littleton, Colorado. That shooting claimed 15 lives in a school in the Denver suburb.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) Crisis Response Unit, among others, responded to the Red Lion shooting in 2001. After offering on-the-scene spiritual care right after the shooting, local pastors there worked alongside secular psychologists as the school reopened.

Similarly, teams from Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota responded last year when a 16-year-old boy shot and killed nine people before killing himself at the Red Lake High School, on the Red Lake Indian Reservation some 240 miles north of Minneapolis.

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Related Links:

Mennonite Central Committee

Mennonite Disaster Service

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