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Nickel Mines Amish reach out

They are writing to grieving parents in Newtown, although the words come hard.

NICKEL MINES, Pa. - Members of an Amish community where a gunman killed five girls in a one-room schoolhouse in 2006 are writing letters to reach out in sympathy to grieving parents in Newtown, Conn.

A farm services business owner who is not Amish has promised to drive the letters to Connecticut. He said Tuesday that he raised the idea over the weekend with the father of the woman who was teaching the day the massacre occurred at West Nickel Mines Amish School.

Jerry Feister of Honey Brook said, "It just seems there's a connection or bond there. I felt maybe we could try and offer, that is all."

The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal-New Era reported that the Amish were struggling to find the right words.

"The grieving process is very personal," one father told the newspaper. "Right now, they're in shock, so what can I write?"

Others told the paper that their faith and belief in forgiveness helped them bear the horror of the attack, in which a milk truck driver killed five girls and wounded five others before killing himself.

"This is not just going to be over in a couple days," another father told the paper. "It could be years or months. Now it's six years, but we're back to a normal, a new normal."

The newspaper did not name the Amish they spoke with, at their request. The Amish generally do not speak to reporters on the record, in part because they do not like to call attention to themselves as individuals.

The men interviewed spoke of dismay and shock at hearing the news of another mass shooting inside a school, and said it brought to the surface the anger and grief they have lived with.

"I wouldn't want to tell them that in three or four months, the grief is going to be just as hard or harder," said a man whose two daughters died inside the school.

Herman Bontrager, who acted as a spokesman for the Nickel Mines Amish community in 2006, said Tuesday that the families had spoken about wanting to help the people in Newtown.

"This is a time when the scabs are rubbed raw again," Bontrager told the Associated Press. "They're interested in reaching out."

The most severely injured survivor of the schoolhouse attack remains unable to eat, sit, or talk, Bontrager said. But her relatives believe she reacts to stimulus and understands a lot about her surroundings.

"They feel she's not totally absent from them, cognitively," Bontrager said.

Feister, whose company sells and repairs dairy feeding equipment, was working nearby on the day of the Nickel Mines massacre.

"When you hear about something like this, and it goes back to what happened at Nickel Mines, [it's] just the helpless feeling you have," Feister said. "You want to do something and you don't know what to do. Words just seem inadequate."

The West Nickel Mines Amish School was torn down 10 days after the shooting and replaced with the New Hope Amish School a few hundred yards away.