Kimberly Williams-Paisley, center, stars as an Amish mother in  Amish Grace,  a movie that airs Sunday on the Lifetime Movie Network. The film is a
Kimberly Williams-Paisley, center, stars as an Amish mother in Amish Grace, a movie that airs Sunday on the Lifetime Movie Network. The film is a fictionalized depiction of the af´termath of the 2006 Nickel Mines shootings in Lancaster County. (Lifetime Movie Network)
It plays fast and loose with what actually happened, but "Amish Grace," a TV movie about the school shooting that claimed the lives of five Lancaster County girls in 2006, was never meant to be a literal recreation of the event, the film's executive producer said.

Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV entered a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, on Oct. 2, 2006, and took several Amish girls hostage. He shot 10 of them -- five fatally -- before killing himself.

The movie, which airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on the Lifetime Movie Network, keeps those details but invents many others, blending fact with fiction "to offer hope and raise the human condition," producer Larry Thompson said.

But people with connections to the shooting victims have voiced concerns about the project.

Several Amish workers at the Markets at Shrewsbury
said they disapprove of public exposure and object specifically to a televised adaptation of the Nickel Mines tragedy.

"We do not ask for that," said Eli King, who shows items at Penn Dutch Furniture. "I wouldn't want my name on that."

King said one of his cousins was among the first Amish people to respond to the scene of the shooting. After seeing the massacre up close, "he just about went beside himself," he said.

Sources: The film takes its inspiration from "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy" -- a book written by Amish scholars Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt and David Weaver-Zercher.

But when contacted by the production company that had purchased the film rights to the book, the authors declined to sign on as consultants.

"Other than knowing that the upcoming movie mixes fictional characters with factual events, we know nothing about its content. We are therefore unable to comment on its merits," the authors said in a recent statement.

"We do know that Amish people are skeptical of movies and books about Amish life that blur fact and fiction, and particularly a movie that addresses such a painful subject. For that reason and others, we decided not to assist the filmmakers in the course of the movie's production," the authors said.

As with any other royalties received through the book, the authors will donate their share of proceeds from the film to a nonprofit.

Changes: Thompson, the producer, said a writer was dispatched to Lancaster for several days to conduct research, but because the production team did not contact the Amish community, many of the film's characters had to be created or renamed.

"In order to protect the privacy of the Amish people, we did not want to make it about the real people per se," he said. To give audiences somebody to identify with, "we had to create somewhat of a fictional character -- sort of a composite."

That character is bereaved mother Ida Graber, played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Ida, whose entire family is fictional, spends much of movie rejecting the Amish community's forgiveness of and prayers for Roberts and his family.
She also chafes against the tradition of shunning people who have left the church.
That behavior wasn't observed in any real Amish person, Thompson said.

Ida "acts sort of like we would act at first," he said. "She's grieving. She's mad. She's angry. We have to go through what she goes through to get to forgiveness."

King, the Shrewsbury furniture store employee, said grudges run against Amish beliefs.

"We don't believe in holding anything against anybody," he said. "I don't think the Lord (wanted the shooting to happen), but he let it happen."

And shunning, though its merits are discussed from time to time, is part of the Amish way of life, King said.

"Our folks do shunning if folks don't obey the rules," he said.

No 'gore': The movie spends a few minutes introducing its characters before the shooting occurs.

Eighteen minutes and 30 seconds into the commercial-free version sent to media outlets, Roberts stops his car in front of the schoolhouse and enters the building. Seconds later, the sequence is over. There is no gunfire, screaming or footage of terrified girls.

For Jonathan Smith, a state police trooper who lives in Red Lion, that's good news.

Smith was one of the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene of the shooting. Years later, he and his family still keep in touch with some of the Amish families affected by the tragedy.

Skipping the "gore" is a tasteful move, Smith said, though he wasn't sure last week whether he would watch it.

"The only things I've read are negative things about the movie -- their culture, the way they dress," he said. "I think they're probably going to make it Hollywood-ish."

An early review from the Harrisburg Patriot-News called the movie "an exploitation film that has no redeeming value." Herman Bontrager, who spoke for the Nickel Mines Amish community in the days after the shooting, recently told the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era about glaring inaccuracies in the film's characterization of the Amish.

Thompson, responding to the criticisms, said he was "touched" that people in the area would be so protective of the Amish.

"I would hope as a producer that if they choose to see the movie ... it would ease their fear that we did not set out to exploit anyone," he said. "We dealt with the tragedy, but we focused our movie on the astonishing act of unconditional forgiveness."

-- Reach Peter Mergenthaler at 505-5439 or pmergenthaler@yorkdispatch.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ydcity.