On Oct. 2, 2006, a tragedy took place in West Nickel Mines, Pa., when a lone shooter took the lives of five Amish children and injured several others before taking his own life. Out of that tragedy came the story of forgiveness, a story that has become a mission for Terri Roberts, the mother of Charles Roberts, 33, the man who took the innocent lives that day.
''The story of forgiveness over-shadowed the horror'' Terri said. ''Two things happened that day that gave me hope.''
She said the first turn of events was when an Amish neighbor came to her home to console her husband, Chuck Roberts. Chuck hadn't raised his head all day and actually wore skin off his forehead wiping tears away. The Amish neighbor held Chuck in his arms for nearly an hour telling him about forgiveness.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Sherry Nicholson of Austintown spends some time with her special guest, Terri Roberts from Strasburg, Pa., who has come to the area to share her message of forgiveness.
The second thing that happened for Terri was a counselor who came in and told her to recall the good things about her son. Terri said the woman told her what had happened was only a small moment in her son's life.
''The whole forgiveness part helped us deal with the situation and helped us build a relationship with the Amish,'' Terri said. ''It helped us in our healing.''
Since the incident, Terri has made it a ministry to share the story of forgiveness. Over the past eight years, she has spoke to over 200 groups ranging in size from a hand-full to 800 people. Her mission has taken her to a variety of venues including schools and prisons.
On the local scene, Austintown resident Sherry Nicholson was instrumental in bringing Terri to the area to speak to a variety of groups. It all started with a trip to Strasburg, Pa., earlier this year. While at a bed and breakfast, Nicholson looked up Terri and got a chance to meet her.
''I had the thought of bringing her to Youngstown because Youngstown needs a lot of healing,'' Nicholson said.
She did get her meeting with Terri, and arrangements were made.
Last week, Terri came to the area and presented her message. She spoke at an Amish / Mennonite gathering in Columbiana at a private luncheon at Riverside Fellows Garden, twice at the New Springfield Church of God and at New Covenant Worship Center in Youngstown.
''This has become a ministry,'' Terri said. ''I have had people hear me talk and tell me their lives have been changed. So many times people think the Amish are so wonderful because they forgive. Jesus died so we could be forgiven, and it is up to us [like the Amish] to live that in our own lives.''
Terri brought that message to hundreds in the area last week as she worked with Nicholson on a full schedule. For those who may have missed her message, Nicholson is having her return in September for more local engagements.
Terri also mentioned she is working on a book about her family's experience. She is working with a professional writer and hopes to have the book released late next year.