On 7th anniversary, first responder recalls Nickel Mines tragedy

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Wednesday marks a difficult anniversary for many in Southern Lancaster County. Seven years ago, on October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts took ten girls hostage inside an Amish schoolhouse and went on a shooting rampage.

Five girls died and five survived. It was a horrific crime that stunned the world and brought an unprecedented amount of first responders and media to the small village of Nickel Mines, Lancaster County.

As a member of the South Central Task Force, an eight-county emergency response team, Duane Hagelgans clearly remembers the text message he received that morning.

It said there was a shooting inside of a one-room Amish schoolhouse and that young Amish girls were among the victims.

“Until we got there, I don’t know that any of us expected it to be what it was,” Hagelgans said. “I think in the back of your mind, you’re still thinking, it’s not going to be this, it’s not going to be this. And unfortunately, it was.”

Along with the task force, Hagelgans’ job was to help coordinate the resources needed in the response. The West Nickel Mines School House shooting was the most significant incident of his career.

“We deal with death and tragedy, but there is nothing worse than something that is an intentional act,” he said. “And this was an intentional act against innocent people. I mean, how do you process that?”

Even as the years pass, Hagelgans said it’s a feeling that never goes away.

“In our line of work, you have to kind of be able to move on to the next event. But the reality of it is, you never get over it,” he said.

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