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Crisis intervention in the wake of the Pennsylvania Amish school shootings Research Paper


On 2nd October, 2006, a lone gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV went into the one-roomed Amish school in west nickel mines, Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, armed with three firearms and about six hundred rounds of ammunition at around 9:51 am.

He barricaded the school doors with boards and eye bolts then using tape, he went ahead to bind the arms and legs of ten female students after releasing a pregnant woman, three parents with infants and fifteen male students.

At around 10:36 am one of the teachers, Emma Zook, who had escaped together with her mother to a nearby farm, where, with the help of an Amish man, Amos smoker, made a 911 call to the state police troopers who arrived at around 10:42 (Books 2010)1.

While they were waiting for reinforcements, the police tried to communicate with Mr. Roberts through their cruisers’ PA system, which did not succeed as Roberts asked them to leave.

At around 11:07 he started shooting the girls and as the troopers approached the building the shooting suddenly stopped as Roberts committed suicide (Pennsylvania police state police, 2006). The troopers took about two and a half minutes to enter the building to assist the injured girls.

The crisis intervention approach in response to this crisis or trauma

The appropriate crisis intervention approach in this case would be divided into three parts. These are: the proactive crisis management; intervention and communication; and post crisis management.

Proactive crisis management

The Amish community generally lacks a sense of danger and despises the use of technology in general for cultural reasons. Therefore, it was not a surprise that the particular school and its board had no crisis management plan at the time of the tragedy.

They had never seen a gun and did not see any danger posed by a gun trotting man in the school. These cases of ignorance are not only evidenced in this Amish school, but as was the case in the Scottish Dunblane School, the headmaster ignored the gun shots thinking they were noises from a nearby construction site.

Also, in the Columbine High School, the students thought that it was a prank and therefore, ran towards the shooter instead of away from him. The Amish students stayed there instead of running away (Books, 2010)2.

Intervention and communication

In this case analysts differed on their opinion on the police intervention with some terming it as ‘excellent’ due to their rapid response, while others thought it was a ‘blunder’ due to their ‘wait and see’ strategy that wasted a lot of valuable time.

This strategy is informed by their need to take a gradual approach in protecting the lives of both the hostages and the crowd that forms in such cases. Due to the rigidity of police protocols, after the first scream was heard the troopers stationed at a shed behind the building radioed for permission to approach the building, but were told to stay put.

This institutional resistance to change in the police force has to be addressed and tactics reviewed since a single gunman in a one roomed school should not have been able to progressively shoot ten girls in the presence of a crowd of police officers who were armed without any of them moving a muscle.

This is mainly blamed on the strict following of written police guidelines that dictate that when the police arrive at a scene, they should first set up a perimeter while waiting for qualified police teams such as SWAT and hostage negotiators. They then have to coordinate their actions with medical teams who have to be waited for to set up a crisis management centre, and all this has to be done outside.

This leads to wastage of valuable time and in most school shootings like the Columbine High School case the shootings happened when the police were already in the compound. Therefore, the Columbine Review Commission recommended that the police should avoid wasting time and take any necessary action to stop the impending attack.

It also happens that the longer the incident progressed, the more the people involved which makes the chain of command even longer and decisions even harder to make leading to a further waste of time (Books, 2010)1. The troopers should be given authority to promptly intervene on their arrival since if they were equipped, but have to wait for ‘off-site’ commands they would not be in a position to stop the killings.

Also, in this case the communication, process was also questionable since the Pennsylvania State Police and Bart township Quick Response Service teams were asking for more help as the situation progressed. They first asked for emergency medical services then advanced life support and finally they asked for Aerial support.

This resulted in the arrival of too many emergency response teams which contributed in further complicating the process. One of the emergency medical technicians later described the situation on the ground as organised chaos as there were sixty nine fire companies, twenty ambulance crews with their twelve ambulances, four police helicopters and five emergency medical services helicopters.

In analysis of the situation, due to the huge number of emergency teams dispatched, it would not have been possible for, besides the two girls who had died instantly, three more girls to have died and five others to be left with permanent disabilities.

This would have been mainly caused by either or both of the following scenarios; the Pennsylvania state police underestimation of the incident; the overestimation of the potential number of victims and underestimation in terms of speed required by state agencies.

This led to intervention coming too late after the girls had already been shot and the resultant chaos and confusion due to the many teams involved (Books, 2010)2. This was later aggravated by the delays in the triage, treatment and transportation process that had been adopted by the first emergency medical services teams that arrived at the scene.

Post crisis management

There should have been the establishment of a crisis centre where parents and students information would have been gathered and shared early. The identification of the victims and communication to their families proved challenging due to the nature of the Amish culture. The Amish school kept no records of pupils and due to the Amish culture of the resentment of technology communication was almost impossible.

The students had similar homemade clothes and had no school badges. Since in this community everyone knew each other, the chaos that came after the arrival of the police and the emergency team made it tough for people to establish who the direct victims were. The parents were offered transportation by the police, but they declined and opted for ground transportation.

The hospitals also received patients whose information was inconclusive, hence identifying which girl was taken where was tough for both family members, hospital practitioners and the police and this led to flawed crisis communication.

There should also have been a counselling centre set up for the families of the victims including the boys, the teachers and the other women who were spared (Kraybill, Nolt, & Weaver-Zercher, 2010).

Considerations related to the crisis

Analysis of ethical considerations related to this crisis

As much as the first police officer to arrive had to follow protocol, they still had an ethical obligation to do whatever they deemed necessary to stop the situation from degenerating into murder. The police and the public officers should learn to put human life before the tenure and authorities of the offices they hold.

The relatives of the girls should not have had to undergo the traumatising task of visiting hospital after hospital looking for their daughters. Though it is unethical for the police to profile individuals who are likely to commit such acts, it is important to monitor individuals who show such tendencies. However, this case was different from other school shootings where the shooter is usually a student.

Legal considerations related to this crisis

The legal implications in this case served to worsen a situation that could have been saved. Though the police felt the need to storm the building after the first screams were heard, the law dictated that they wait for further communication from their superiors. Therefore, it is advisable that the police force makes some of the laws that govern these bureaucracies less rigid.

There is also a need to make it mandatory for all schools to have safety measures that govern the entry of outsiders, irrespective of their religious or cultural affiliations. The incident generated government interest in school shootings as the president called for crisis meetings to debate the issue. A training program for the community service officers who were tasked with the role of ensuring school security was implemented.

The FBI also created a program where schools were allocated resources meant to hire armed school resource officers who would serve as a force to deter any outsiders from executing such crimes and also offer counselling and educational programs.

Multicultural considerations related to this crisis

In as much as we respect the diversity of cultures and respect their cultural practices in their own rights, there should be some level of flexibility. In this case, though the Amish do not use cars and helicopters, they allowed the injured girls to be transported through this means while denying themselves such transportation services.

The police in this case did not show any effort to understand the inherent cultures of the Amish community as they did not anticipate their lack of modes of communication which led to confusion for the community further aggravating their traumatic experiences.

However, it was impressive for the Amish community, despite their loss to forgive Mr. Robert and not hold grudges against his family and they still went ahead to mourn their loss together.

Assessment of the potential impact of the crisis


The Amish community was greatly affected by the shooting, but the psychological consequences were mitigated by their strong religious beliefs. They explained it as an act of God rather than blaming the shooter or as it is evidenced in some cases, the shooter’s community.

The five girls who survived were permanently maimed and one of them was permanently disabled and as of 2009, she could not speak or walk. The psychological implications, however, were mitigated by the demolition of the school as another one that was totally different was built.


Though in most school shooting cases the parents often pulled their children from the particular school choosing to either transfer them to another school or home school them, in this case, the pupils still returned to the school. However, this was less traumatic since the school was demolished and rebuilt further from the site. The community forgave the shooter and they were also seen comforting Roberts’ family for their bereavement.

The teacher and the boys who were released from the school by the shooter showed signs of suffering from survivors’ guilt syndrome and the teacher went ahead to resign from her job after two years. The other victims who did not receive much attention were the shooters’ family that moved from their house which was near the school and relocated further, though still in the Lancaster county area.


The victim’s perception of crime and safety changed as the new school was built with all the possible safety standards in place. However, their memories of that tragic day have not faded and the trauma of that incident will probably haunt them for more years to come.

Though the Amish community doesn’t accept charity, the nature of this tragedy forced them to accept assistance from outsiders. ABC news reported that the community received donations to the tune of $ 4.3 million dollars.


The Amish community got a new sense of insecurity and although they previously never undertook any insurance policy, the community’s charity fund was started and Capital Blue Cross, a local insurance company, set up a fund to cover medical expenses for $ 500,000.

Though the students were traumatised their education was not interrupted that much, except the five girls who were injured the others returned to school after the new school building was built. The other four girls eventually resumed schooling though after some time, but one of them who suffered a total, permanent disability never went back to school.

The global impact of the crisis or trauma

Throughout the world, governments and scholars were interested on this violent incident and the subsequent underlying issues that prompted individuals to act in such a violent manner, especially against young innocent students. Different governments reviewed their school safety mechanism measures and gun control since this incident could have happened anywhere.

It also brought the much needed scrutiny into the underlying psychological issues that are always prevalent after such cases. School shootings have now been the interest of researchers, not only in the United States where they are mostly reported, but also in other parts of the world.

Different profiles of individuals who would probably exhibit such violent behaviour have been formulated in the quest to recognise the possibilities of such events and stop them before they happen through violence prevention intervention. There are also interests in the production of a movie on the tragic event and numerous books have been published on the event.

Crisis intervention strategies and skills

Crisis intervention strategies are the methods that are used by those offering immediate short-term help to victims of an event that pose physical, mental, emotional and behavioral problems to them (Fairchild, 1997). It is meant to help the victims resume their normal lives as they were before the tragic event by reducing the intensity of the victim’s physical, mental, emotional and behavioral reactions towards the tragedy.

This is done by helping the victims develop new coping mechanisms and eliminates previously adopted ways of coping like substance abuse, isolation and withdrawal.

In talking about the event and expressing their feelings, on the event while also developing these coping mechanisms, the victims are able to come to terms with the effects of the event hence through crisis intervention the victims do not end up suffering the consequences of the event in the long-term, which sometimes may be all through their lives.

Contrary to popular perceptions, victims are more willing to accept help during and right after the traumatic event. In this case of the Amish who previously did not believe in accepting charity, they had to accept help due to the overwhelming magnitude of the tragedy (Roberts, 2005). The crisis intervention takes about four weeks though others yield successful results earlier depending on the magnitude of the tragedy.

It is mainly done in the hospital emergency rooms, schools, clinics, crisis centers, mental health hospitals, correctional facilities and counseling centers. It is imperative that crisis intervention should not only be limited to the victims, but also the perpetrators of the crimes that led to such tragic events and their families.

A typical crisis intervention process starts with an assessment of the events and how the victims responded to it. The victims’ responses range from physical reactions such as headaches and fatigue, mental reactions such as nightmares and confusion, emotional reactions such as fear, grief, anger and guilt, and behavioural reactions such as isolation, sleeping and appetite problems and substance abuse.

Individuals’ social support networks and relations have to be obtained so as to successfully assess the individual’s coping skills. There should be an assessment of suicidal tendencies that often come up during tragic events especially where individuals feel guilty or feel that they could have done something to prevent deaths.

Individuals have to be educated on the consequences of traumatic events. They have to be reassured that their resultant reactions to an abnormal situation are usually normal and are only temporary (James, 2008). This helps the individual to easily express their feelings towards the traumatic event openly.

Coping skills that may be used to mitigate the effects may include writing of one’s thoughts on paper to openly relieve them and the use of exercise and relaxation techniques that relieve body tensions as well as stress. Individuals are also encouraged to spend time with other people as a mode of providing them with social support and comfort in sharing their thoughts.

Cognitive therapy which assumes that thoughts do influence the behaviour and the feelings of individuals is also usually used in crisis intervention.

Problem solving is also an important aspect of crisis intervention where victims are taken through a process of understanding the problem, its desired effects, alternative problem solving techniques and their advantages or disadvantages, formulate a solution and its implementation plan and finally the assessment of the resultant outcome.

There should be a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) and management structure in place to mitigate the effects of the traumatic event not only to the victims, but also the police and the emergency response units. It is done by a trained team of personnel such as mental health personnel, the emergency services teams and in some cases the religious leaders.

Previous research has, however, cautioned against the use of CISD by untrained personnel as this may end up stressing and harming the victims further (Hendricks, McKean & Hendricks, 2010). Psychological, social and physical problems may require further medical attention and medical counselling in order to heal the victims and reduce their distress levels. There should also be follow ups to ascertain the success of these processes.

The potential long-term psychological effects

The victims who survived will always have the memory of that tragic day in their heads and though these memories might seem repressed for a while they still end up reappearing even in old age. There is also the tendency of sexist crimes to induce sexist emotions in the victimized persons.

They may have this throughout their lives and since it is a psychological issue rather than a perception one the paradigm shift instilled by the community may not always work to suppress such feelings of resentment in this case to men.

In some cases of such traumatic magnitudes, the victims get flashbacks and upsetting memories of the event, nightmares, become detached, they lack interest in their routine activities and avoid people, thoughts and places that remind them of the traumatic event (Litz, 2004). The victims may also exhibit concentration difficulties, startle and anger easily. They also become hyper-vigilant.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

A good social support and desensitization treatment may be necessary to help the members of the community and the victims to cope with post-traumatic stress disorders and acute stress disorder (Corales, 2005). This treatment helps in reducing the symptoms of PTSD by encouraging victims to remember the traumatic events and openly express their feelings about it. This makes the memories of the event less traumatising after a while.

It would also be imperative for people to organise themselves into support groups where they can share their feelings and experiences on a traumatic event, which helps people with PTSD not to further degenerate into depression, alcohol and abuse of other drugs, and other related medical conditions.

Mostly, it is advised that support groups should be tried before applying the desensitization therapy since it is more effective and less stressful for the victims (Dattilio, & Freeman, 2007). There can also be the use of drugs that like antidepressants and sleeping drugs to relieve anxiety and other effects of PTSD.

However, it is important that crisis managers undertake an early diagnosis of PTSD and commence treatment promptly for the victims to quickly and effectively treat them. They should also establish a strong social support for the victims as soon as possible.

Potential risk and resilience factors

School shootings and other dramatic killings often have the tendency of generating copycats which ends up causing further harm to the affected communities. However, officials are usually vigilant during the weeks after the shooting for anyone who might attempt to imitate the event.

Shortly after the Amish school shooting some other schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey had to be closed by authorities after they received threatening letters.

There are also cases of revenge that are due to the grudges held by the victims’ relatives or even the surviving victims. In cases such as the Columbine and the Dunblane School shootings there were numerous lawsuits with the victims’ families suing the shooter’s family and the police. This served to further disintegrate a community that had been brought together by the tragedy (Lieberman & Sachs, 2008).

There are also the health related consequences that follow such school shootings where some of the victims sustain long-term and short-term physical injuries. In the case of the Amish school shooting, five of the girls who survived had physical disabilities with one of them being totally incapacitated. There are also psychological problems that often affect the victims of the traumatic event and also their relatives.

How Each Might Impact Recovery

If other shooters (copycats) come up to try and imitate the previous shooter, this would further aggravate the traumatic event, and make the whole recovery process degenerate by both causing more physical injury to other victims and also rekindling the memories of the previous tragedy to the victims.

If the victims go ahead to hold grudges against the shooter’s family or community, the recovery effort may not be as successful as these grudges may degenerate into future violent revenge attacks against each other and these serve to hamper recovery efforts by gorging already healing wounds.

If the psychological and health related issues that often follow such events are not addressed with utmost urgency the victims and their families may end up physically and psychologically scarred for life which would make the recovery efforts hard as they end up reliving the consequences of the tragic event every day.

Trends and or future research related to the crisis or trauma

There is a need to further investigate the effectiveness of the emergency response mechanisms in place in the United States so as to come up with more effective emergency services and also to be able to mitigate the extent of injuries incurred in such tragic events. There is also need to contribute more on the research that exists on the recovery of victims who are involved in school shootings and their families.

This is to make the recovery more effective since through the Amish school shootings, victims and the Amish community showed impressive recovery. Other school shootings incidences have not enjoyed the same level of success, leaving communities and victims shattered and psychologically scarred for life.

There is also a need to advance research on to the underlying causes of such inhumane acts of violence, especially on innocent school pupils (Friedman, 2009).

Though this topic has solicited quite a lot of interest after the Amish event among governments and scholars alike, it still lacks the impetus that is required to completely eradicate such cases in the future. There is also the need to come up with an in-depth statistical analysis of the Amish school shooting and more research into the motives of Mr. Roberts.


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Corales, T., A. (2005). Trends in posttraumatic stress disorder research. New York: Nova Publishers.

Dattilio, F., M. & Freeman, A. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral strategies in crisis intervention. London: Guilford Press.

Fairchild, T., N. (1997). Crisis intervention strategies for school-based helpers. New York: Charles C. Thomas.

Friedman, L., S. (2009). School Shootings. Writing the Critical Essay: An Opposing Viewpoints Guide. New York: Gale.

Hendricks, J., E. & McKean J, and Hendricks C G. (2010). Crisis Intervention: Contemporary Issues for On-Site Interveners. New York: Charles C Thomas.

James. R., K. (2008). Crisis intervention strategies. Upper Saddle River: Cengage Learning.

Kraybill, D., B, Nolt, S., M. & Weaver-Zercher D L. (2010). Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Lieberman, J., A. & Sachs B. (2008). School Shootings: What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children. New York: Citadel Press.

Litz, B., T. (2004). Early intervention for trauma and traumatic loss. New York: Guilford Press.

Pennsylvania police state police. Annual report, 2006 (Edward G. Rendell, Govenor, and Colonel Jeffrey B. Miller, commissioner). 141p. Retrieved from

Roberts, A., R. (2005). Crisis intervention handbook: assessment, treatment, and research. London: Oxford University Press.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Crisis intervention in the wake of the Pennsylvania Amish school shootings." May 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/crisis-intervention-in-the-wake-of-the-pennsylvania-amish-school-shootings-research-paper/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Crisis intervention in the wake of the Pennsylvania Amish school shootings'. 14 May.

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