How Amish Will Use Donations

Since the Oct. 2 shooting of 10 Amish schoolgirls, sympathetic people have responded with an outpouring of donations to help the community in Nickel Mines, Pa., pay hospital bills and for a new school. Since last week, three Mennonite groups with close ties to the Amish have been receiving those donations. Now the Nickel Mines Accountability Committee has been organized to administer the money. Herman Bontrager, normally the CEO of Goodville Mutual Insurance Company, is a volunteer spokesman for the committee. He talked to NEWSWEEK's Susannah Meadows from his office in New Holland, Pa.

NEWSWEEK: How much money has been donated so far?

Herman Bontrager: Over $1 million already. But we don't really know how many funds might be out there.

Many of the hospitals caring for the girls have offered now to waive their bills.

One hospital contacted one of the [Amish] leaders saying that they would not be charging for services rendered. Other hospitals followed suit.

What is the response of the community?

The Amish response was, "We don't expect you to do that." But the hospital said, "We need to do this for ourselves."

Will that leave a lot of money left over?

What we don't know is what [the hospitals' offers] mean for sure. Is it just the hospital billings? Does that include other services, physicians, the anesthesiologist? The other thing we don't know is prognosis. For the long-term costs that are possible for some of these girls, we're not assuming that those are all forgiven.

Where will the money go?

For medical expenses for victims—fatalities and ones who are injured. Short-term and long-term care. Transportation and lodging for family members [visiting their hospitalized children]. It could go toward making schools or homes handicap-accessible.

Are the Amish going to accept any outside offers to build a new school?

They have way more offers than they can use to build a new school. They did have outside offers to demolish the school, which they accepted. But I think the Amish are going to want to build this themselves. I think it will be important for them to know that they have rebuilt this school themselves.

Where will any extra money end up?

The Amish have been clear from step one. They don't want to deny the blessing of people. But if there's extra money, they're saying in no way will we use this money to benefit the Amish community outside of the needs that arise from this tragedy. They might make contributions to services providers who assist people who do not have their own means to pay—hospital charity funds, for instance.

The Amish have said they'd like some of the money to go to the family of the killer.

There was one bank account set up specifically for his family. In addition to that, the accountability committee, on behalf of the church leadership, has said that if there are needs beyond that fund, they want to make sure that some of the money that comes in designated for Nickel Mines victims [goes to the killer's family]. Nickel Mines victims include [that] family, in their definition. There are conversations about what the family's needs are, such as scholarship funds for the children. The committee will contribute as it becomes clear what the needs are.

Are the Amish aware of how people have been inspired by the community's generosity toward the killer's family?

I've heard them talk about that. They're recognizing that this is an event that affects a lot of people both from grief and from its learning potential. I'm sure that many of them feel that deeply and are very very grateful for it. But an Amish person would be very reluctant to talk about "We're teaching the world something." What they would say is, "We just did what we think we need to do as people of faith. Our actions are more important than our words."