Getting the Amish response

amish villageHere at GetReligion, we see (neglected) religious overtones in almost all news stories. But even the mainstream media picked up on the religious overtones in yesterday's shooting at a Pennsylvania Amish school. The ubiquitous media coverage gives us an opportunity to compare the heavy hitters. Let's begin with the lead paragraphs. Here's the one from the New York Times piece by David Kocieniewski and Gary Gately:

A dairy truck driver, apparently nursing a 20-year-old grudge, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse here Monday morning and systematically tried to execute the girls there, killing four and wounding seven before killing himself, the police said.

Here's the first paragraph from The Washington Post, where Raymond McCaffrey and Paul Duggan teamed up:

A truck driver armed with three guns, two knives and 600 rounds of ammunition burst into a one-room schoolhouse in this Amish community Monday, lined at least 11 girls against a blackboard and shot them "execution style," killing three before taking his life, police said.

And now let's go to the best piece, by Ellen Barry and Stephanie Simon in the Los Angeles Times:

Calling on its faith for guidance, the Amish community here coupled sorrow with forgiveness Monday after a milk-truck driver armed with a small arsenal burst into a one-room schoolhouse, killing four girls and critically wounding seven others. He killed himself as police stormed the building.

Not only does the Los Angeles Times piece get the religious angle better, it also moves the story forward. New York Times and Washington Post readers get a story they could have read online the day before. The Los Angeles Times piece adds value to what the readers already know.

The disparity grows in the body of the story. The New York Times piece was barren of religious imagery. An early graph notes that religious bias was not the apparent motivation for the killing. The story also characterizes the Amish as a traditional culture and never notes the religious basis for their lifestyle. Quotes from Amish and a neighboring Mennonite are similarly devoid of religion.

The Washington Post story was better, giving a brief explanation for why the Amish reject modern trappings. It also included information on the origins of the Amish. While the Post reporters note that Amish residents gathered at the schoolhouse, they don't include any quotes from Amish talking about their faith.

Which brings us to the Los Angeles Times piece, again. Let's take a look at how they treat the victimized community:

But [Charles] Roberts' brutality evoked very little anger among the community Monday. Men in broad-brimmed hats and suspenders and women in bonnets and long dark dresses expressed grief and shock, but in hushed, muted tones. "It's a sad day," Jacob King, a 31-year-old stonemason[,] said. He could think of nothing else to add, just repeated that one word, "sad."

Rather than dwell on the victims -- though this is a close-knit community, where few are strangers -- Amish residents spoke of their concern for Roberts' family; their sorrow that a man could become so unhinged, so alienated from the Lord.

"I wish someone could have helped him out, poor soul. It's obvious that something was troubling him," said Steve, a 54-year-old carpenter who, like many here, would not give his full name.

Of the tragedy, he would say only that it was "uncalled for," and unexpected.

An Amish woman who gave her name as Irene also expressed compassion for the gunman. "I am very thankful," she said, "that I was raised to believe you don't fight back. You should forgive."

. . . Suburbs are creeping closer and closer, but the Amish "just go about their way," said Myron Stoltzfus, 48, a local butcher.

Stoltzfus was raised by Amish parents; he is now a Mennonite, but understands the Amish ways and anticipates that, even as the loss sinks in, few here will call for security guards at the schoolhouse -- or even a cellphone in the teacher's desk. "The Amish see death as a part of life," he said. "They will grieve -- but they have more resignation. They will take this as something God ordained."

What a difference it makes to include the religious views of the Amish in this story! Kudos to Barry and Simon for turning around a rich story so quickly.

Photo via Super-Nova on Flickr.

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