The Little Brown Eyed Girl of Nickel Mines




There are things in life that are as real today as they were when first they happened.


For me, seeing the devastation that once was Hiroshima, Japan, about ten weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped there, was one; the other was the horror that occurred at the Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006.


Both of the incidents are connected in that they involved an old navy buddy, George Reynolds, who served with me aboard ship during WWII. We had stood together at the backboard of a truck as it made its way through what once was the city of Hiroshima and now was a hard to define mass of rubble.


More than sixty years later, in spring of 2006, I went to visit George at his home in Elkton, Maryland which is close to the Pennsylvania border and the Amish settlement of Nickel Mines. We started driving with no particular destination in mind and soon found ourselves in that Amish community.


As we drove through the countryside, I was impressed by the neat rows of tilled land that stretched to the horizon. All of the work involving the growing of the crops is done by hard manual labor and the Amish seem to thrive on it.


We stopped at a roadside stand that sold vegetables and plants and I bought George’s wife, Elvira, some hanging baskets.


Beside the stand, several Amish children were playing on a makeshift climbing device; the eldest appeared to be no more than seven years old.


As I walked by them, I reached into my pocket, removed a handful of change and offered it to the children. The oldest boy accepted the money nodding his head that he knew he was to share the money equally with his little friends.




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I looked over my shoulder as I entered the car; all the kids were seated in a circle intent on the division of the coins, all that is, with the exception of one little girl who followed me with her gaze.


Her little Amish bonnet framed big brown eyes set in an angelic countenance; she was the picture of innocence. As I entered the car I turned and waved to her; her little hand rose in response.


Then, the unthinkable occurred; ten little Amish girls were taken hostage and brutalized


A deranged milkman subjected them to a horror that their innocent minds could not comprehend and when it was over his actions had devastated the community.


My heart ached as I thought of my little brown eyed girl of the roadside stand and I wondered if she had been one of the victims.


A mixture of emotions, mostly those of rage and disbelief, engulfed me; how could this happen to these, the most innocent, the most precious of children.


George and I returned to the Nickel Mines area recently with the thought of seeking out two of the surviving girls who suffered the most serious injuries and offering them financial assistance.


As usual the roads were barren of motorized traffic and we encountered only two of the Amish horse drawn buggies.


Then, to my utter astonishment, I saw a little girl of about seven years of age walking beside the road. She was more than a mile from the nearest farmhouse and there were no adults in sight.


Her long gray dress, white apron and bonnet accentuated her beauty; she was angelic and the only thing missing were the wings.



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I waved to her, expecting the same response I had received when I encountered the little girl at the roadside stand. But this time, the little one kept her gaze straight ahead; her eyes glistened and her shoulders began to shake. Fear had become a resident in the very young minds of Nickel Mines.


I wanted to take her in my arms and go back to the farm house; I wanted to shout at her parents for permitting her to go out alone.


I know the response would be that their faith sustained them even in the worst of circumstances; that if the carnage at the schoolhouse had shaken that faith then it was, in fact, not a true expression of their beliefs. Nonetheless, the price they pay for their religious dogma, beggars description.


The adults may well subscribe to their tenets, and find comfort therein but the children, so young, haven’t the capacity to fully do so and as a result are denied the solace thus afforded.


The Hiroshima debacle, of more than sixty-two years ago, still causes me an occasional sleepless night. When I returned home in the spring of 1946, a location was being sought for the United Nations building.


I tried contacting various officials in an effort to have them consider locating that glass sided structure in midst of the ruin that once was a city and to staff it with the survivors who were horribly mutilated in that conflagration.














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These surrounding, I felt, would serve as a constant reminder to the U.N. Representatives of the insanity of trying to resolve national problems in any manner other than over a conference table.


The incident at Nickel Mines was, in effect, another Hiroshima of sorts. Though it didn’t involve a nuclear weapon, the devastation left in its wake had a far reaching effect.


In this instance, I tried to persuade campus security at some of the colleges I contacted to provide in class response to the presence of a killer. In colleges and high schools, I suggested that they screen, and arm with a taser at least one student in each classroom.

This student would be trained in helping his classmates to react properly to the threat of a mass killer and thus reduce the number of casualties. Are there objections to these suggestions? Yes, but the number of casualties in the Virginia Tech massacre of April 16, 2007 would have been greatly reduced had they been in place when the shooting at the school began.

No matter how efficient campus police are, they still can act only after the shootings take place and then it is too late. There have been over 35 separate shooting incidents in American Schools in the past 41 years


A common thread is woven through the fabric that constitutes school shootings and it is this: All the gunmen came on campus with the express purpose of committing mass murder.

In Decemberof 1997, Michael Carneal wrapped two shotguns, two rifles and one .22 pistol in a blanket and took them to Heath High School. Carneal had stolen the two shotguns from his father's closet and the two rifles from a friend's home.

When he arrived he inserted earplugs and pulled the pistol out of his bag. He fired 8-rounds in quick succession at a youth prayer group. Five people were hit in their heads and another three were hit in their torsos. Three girls were pronounced dead at a hospital and five were wounded, two critically.

Charles Joseph Whitman–was a student at the Universit of Texas in Austin, who killed 14 people and wounded 31 others, as part of a shooting rampage from the observation deck of the University's 32 story administration building on August 1, 1966. He did this shortly after murdering his wife and mother. He was eventually shot and killed by Austin police.

The California State University, Fullerton massacre was an incident that occurred on the morning of July 12, 1976, when Edward Allaway, a ustodian at the Cal State Fullerton library, shot nine people in the basement and first floor of the library with a .22 caliber rifle. Seven of the nine wounded victims died.

Brenda Ann Spencer carried out a shooting spree at Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California on January 29, 1979. Principal Burton Wragg and head custodian Mike Suchar were killed in the attack, while eight children and a police officer sustained wounds.

Gang Lu, born in Beijing, China, was a graduate student in physics at the University of Iowa. On Friday, November 1, 1991, using a .38 caliber revolver and also carrying a .22 caliber handgun, he shot and killed five people on the Iowa campus in Iowa City, seriously wounded another, then committed suicide.

The 1992 shooting at Lindhurst High School located in  Yuba County. California  took place when  Eric Houston held 80 students hostage in a classroom on the second floor of the school's C building. He killed 3 students and a teacher and wounded many others in his rampage.

The Richland High School shooting occurred on Wednesday, November 15, 1995, in Lynnville, Tennessee. One student and a teacher were killed, and another teacher was seriously wounded by a shot to the head. The perpetrator, age 17, used a semi-automatic rifle.

The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting comprised of two separate attacks about two hours apart. On April 16, 2007, on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. The perpetrator, Seung Hui Cho, killed 32 people and wounded many more, before committing suicide, making it the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history

These are but a few examples of the carnage that has taken place in our schools and there are more, many more.

John Donne, the poet, wrote: “Any man’s death deminishes me because I am involved in Mankind.” Were he to come onto the scene today and be made aware of the massacres that frequently occur , he would doubtlessly be struck speechess and his pen would likewise be muted.

The flowers I bought for Elvira’s rural home in Elkton, Md., graced their front porch for a little while and then withered and died. The little flowers of Nickel Mines were not afforded the luxury of a full life; they brightened the lives of those around them for but a short while and then were no more.

We must press for an instantaneous  response to these mass killings; the alternative is unthinkable.


COPYRIGHT 2008  Angelo Fragapane















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Mar 10, 2008