SOMERTON - Amish residents of Belmont and Monroe counties reacted to the hair-cutting assaults among others of their faith with shock and shame.
Dennis Miller, an Amish man whose farm lies near Somerton, read newspaper accounts of men from Jefferson County who were accused of forcibly cutting the beards and hair of other Amish men and women in Holmes County, Ohio. He condemned those acts and said he could not fault the victims for reporting the attacks to police.
"I don't think they should be doing it. I would say they're trying to get even with some folks," Miller said of the five men charged in recent days with aggravated burglary and kidnapping.
Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough
An Amish girl walks along a gravel road near Jerusalem. Members of the local Amish community usually wear plain, dark-colored clothing as a sign of humility. Girls and women typically wear calf-length blue or black dresses and black bonnets, while men and boys wear dark pants with suspenders and wide-brimmed hats.
Bergholz residents Johnny Mullet, 38; Levi Miller, 53; Lester S. Mullet, 26; Daniel Mullet, 37; and Eli Miller, 32, all were released from police custody Thursday after Sam Mullet, bishop of the Bergholz Amish community, posted $50,000 bond in Holmes County.
Dennis Miller said he does not know any of the Amish involved and does not believe anyone in his community is acquainted with or related to them. Miller came to the Ohio Valley from New York after marrying a local resident. Most members of his community, however, came to the area from Ashland and Medina counties in Ohio.
Miller speculated members of his group would try to resolve their differences - even hair-cutting attacks - without calling on law enforcement. But he was not critical of the victims in this case for doing so.
"Our group, I don't know if we would report it. We wouldn't go and press charges against them," he said. "But if the church rules allowed it, it would be a good idea."
Andy Yoder is the religious leader of the roughly 35 Amish families who live in rural areas around the villages of Barnesville, Woodsfield, Jerusalem, Malaga and Bethesda. He said local Amish residents have no ties to the groups tangled in the high-profile case.
"I heard about it when my English neighbor woman told me, like a warning," he said.
"It's not good. The way I understand it, I don't know what they call themselves, but they're probably not too Amish anymore," he added regarding the alleged perpetrators.
Like Dennis Miller, Yoder believes a grudge must be at the heart of the matter. He doubts the issue will affect his community at all, but he did not rule out the possibility that local Amish would involve law enforcement in such a dispute.
"We don't hope to have anything to do with it," he added. "It's a rare occasion, a case that I hope we never have to hear. As long as they don't pull into our area, I guess we won't run too much."
Sam Mullet, 66, told reporters this week the shearing of hair and beards was a religious issue. He said the goal was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County that they should be ashamed of themselves for altering church rules and trying to force his community to change.
Mullet said he didn't order the hair-cutting but didn't stop the five men from performing the acts. He said he moved the members of his group about 100 miles from Richland County, Ohio, to Bergholz in 1995 just to be by themselves and denied they are a cult.
In most Amish communities, men trim their beards until they are married. From that point on, their beards are allowed to grow. This practice is based on a variety of biblical passages like Psalm 133, as well as on the traditions.
Pacifist Amish men do not grow moustaches, as they are associated with the military and provide an opportunity for vanity. Most Amish women never cut their hair.
One Amish man who lives outside Bethesda and asked not to be named for fear of reprisal said he has been growing his beard since his marriage 27 years ago. He strongly disapproves of the Bergholz men's alleged actions.
He also hopes the arrests won't affect the way the public at large perceives the Amish in general.
"I'm ashamed something like that did happen out of an Amish group," he said. "I think they should work it out in some peaceful way if they did have some difference between them."
Amish typically adhere to a strong belief in forgiveness. Five years ago this month, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered an Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pa., and shot 10 girls five of whom died before killing himself. In the face of that tragedy, members of the Amish community immediately expressed forgiveness to the Roberts family and even reached out to comfort the gunman's widow.
According to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, the Bergholz men allegedly performed similar acts in Jefferson, Carroll and Trumbull counties. He expects the Carroll County case to be presented to a grand jury. A preliminary hearing for the men is set for 11 a.m. Oct. 19 in Holmes County.