Nearly three dozen residents from the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Penn., were in Newtown last Friday. The group spent about nine hours in town, offering support from an unfortunate point of view. These were people who were also affected by an act of violence that took the lives of five children while they were at school. The incident has forever put the name Nickel Mines into a category that Sandy Hook joined 13 months ago, that of communities rocked by gun violence.
Three girls were killed, and six more injured, by an adult male who entered West Nickel Mines Amish School on October 2, 2006. After reportedly tying the feet of all the children who were left in the building after everyone else either escaped or was allowed to leave, he began shooting. Two more girls died the following morning from injuries they sustained in the shootings.
A group of 31 Nickel Mines residents visited Newtown on January 10, according to the Reverend Matthew Crebbin, senior minister of Newtown Congregational Church (NCC). This group included families who had lost loved ones in 2006, and teenagers who had survived the incident, said Rev Crebbin.
"There were also their faith leaders, and one EMT, who had been one of the first responders on the scene that day, who had gotten very close to them," Rev Crebbin said this week. "These were all folks who were affected by the shooting."
Invitations had been extended to some of those who were most affected by the events of 12/14, said Rev Crebbin. Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association organized the visit, which was hosted by NCC.
The day was organized so that those who participated could speak privately with any of the Nickel Mines visitors. Approximately 60 local residents participated, including local clergy and some staff from Sandy Hook Elementary School, said the pastor.
"We had different rooms at the church that were just set up for people who wanted private conversation, and others for larger groups [from Newtown] that met with a larger group from Nickel Mine," said Rev Crebbin. "We just had the different rooms, and a loose schedule, to follow what people desired, and that's just what they did."
"I was very encouraged by it. I think we all were. It was a very good day," said Rev Crebbin. "It was about two communities finding ways to support each other."
The idea for the visit was planted nearly a year ago, when Rev Crebbin was contacted by a colleague in New Hampshire. Rev Crebbin had served at First Congregational Church in Hancock, N.H., for 12 years before being called to service in Newtown. A community in New Hampshire that had been affected by violence began working with, among others, Dr Kevin Becker, a psychologist who has specialized in the field of psychological trauma for nearly 20 years.
Based in Boston, Dr Becker had contacts with those in the Nickel Mines community, and had arranged for a visit by some of those affected by the 2006 shootings to visit those in New Hampshire who were trying to recover from their trauma.
"After our experiences in Newtown, last year my clergy colleague called me and said they had reached out to Kevin," said Rev Crebbin. "My friend told me that if there was any way they could be helpful, they wanted to [offer their help]. But only if folks here wanted that connection."
The idea was discussed, said Rev Crebbin, but it was initially decided that a visit from the Nickel Mines group would not happen immediately.
"It seemed like the time was better now," said Rev Crebbin.
It was important for all parties involved to know that the Amish were not coming to tell anyone how they should be responding, or feeling. They were not giving advice, said Rev Crebbin, they were just offering to listen and share their stories.
"They're very clear in that they do not want to appear to be telling others how to live," he said. "All they could do is share what their own experiences were."
There was no time for sight-seeing on Friday. The Amish spent the majority of their day inside the West Street church building. The focus was on the private conversations taking place inside, and not attracting attention to themselves, said Rev Crebbin. Privacy was one of the biggest concerns the clergy association had during its planning for January 10, he said.
"We tried to reach out to the folks in the Newtown community who were most affected," he reiterated. "But there is just no way, without publicly doing this, to reach everyone for an event like this. We were trying to maintain a level of privacy for all involved.
"We will continue to try and find ways to help the community, and we will continue to do so quietly," he said. "If people are aware of others who have a need, or are in need themselves, they can certainly contact me or anyone in Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association, and let us know about their concerns."
Most houses of worship in Newtown are members of Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association. To contact Reverend Crebbin, call 203-426-9024 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.