Late last Thursday night a young Amish boy looked out his window, having heard a noise in front of his house. He saw the family horse pulling the buggy in circles in the lane, the buggy his older sister had taken to a Christmas party earlier. Concerned, he summoned his father, who went outside only to find his daughter lying on the ground, blood streaming from a bullet wound in her head. Using a neighbor’s phone, an ambulance was summoned and she was taken to a hospital, where she died.
Her name was Rachel Yoder. She was 15 years old.
The enormity of this crime is magnified by the setting: the hilly countryside near Fredericksburg, Ohio, where I lived for the first three years after I moved to Ohio. It is a beautiful place, idyllic, a garden-like landscape of small, tidy, mostly Amish farms. It is a sort of distributist/agrarian/green wonderland, a place of thriving small farmers, craftsmen, and shopkeepers.
Not that the area has not been touched by violence in recent years. A couple of years back, just a few miles away, in another bucolic village, Maysville, an Amish man plotted the murder of his wife with one of his lovers, a Mennonite woman who fired the fatal shotgun blast as the wife lay sleeping. And a few years before that, down in Holmes County, an Amish man shot his wife and son to death before turning the gun on himself.
These crimes shocked the area- and strangely got no attention beyond Wayne and Holmes Counties- mainly because the perpetrators were Amish, who are more often noted for their non-resistance and sometimes heroic forgiveness to those who have wronged them. The crimes themselves were all too common among humankind, unusual only because violence is rare for the Amish.
But this killing, of a young girl, shocks because of its random cruelty. No suspects have been named, so this is speculative, but it seems there are only a few possiblities.
First, perhaps the murderer was an Amish acquaintance. This seems highly unlikely, for the simple reason that it is hard to see how anyone could desire the death of a 15 year old. But there is a remote chance that this was the act of an Amish psychopath.
Second, it could be a hate crime. Though not often commented on, there is a lot of anti-Amish bigotry around here. The Amish are resented because their relative prosperity and large families keep land prices high. And they are resented by pure tribal prejudice: they are different, very visibly so, and there is much prejudiced gossip about them. But I have never heard of this escalating into violence, let alone murder.
Which brings me to the third, and most likely possibility, that this was the act of punks cruising around, taking a potshot at a buggy, a prank gone horribly wrong.
Let’s hope that if this is the case that someone in that car will be so consumed with guilt that he will come forward. It is hard to see how this crime, committed on a country road in the dark, with no witnesses, will otherwise be solved.
And it is hard to see how the Amish of Ohio will sleep well at night until it is.
Update: As of Monday morning there are no leads in the killing of Rachel Yoder.
Some have speculated that she could have been shot by a stray bullet from racoon hunters (coon hunting is a nocturnal affair). I think this unlikely, because if there were coon hunters in the vicinity someone would have reported it by now; coon hounds make an ungodly racket.
Others have wondered if this has something to do with a dissident Amish faction that has been in the news lately for roughing up rival bishops, shaving their beards and cutting their hair and that of their wives. This is not likely for several reasons:
First, the “Mullett cult” (as they are called around here, for the name of their bishop) targets bishops with whom they have a particular grievance; they don’t just attack random members of rival groups.
Second, while they have hardly been nonviolent, their violence has consisted of shoving people around, not shooting them.
Finally, Rachel Yoder lived on Salt Creek Road, near Fredericksburg, which is New Order country, and the Mullett gang are Old Order.
Update: Freak Accident, not Murder
It turns out that the death of young Rachel Yoder was in fact an accident, and one so unlikely that no one had guessed it as the answer to the mystery.
It seems that just over the Holmes County line a young man was cleaning a muzzle-loading rifle and discharged the weapon into the air. It was that round that killed Miss Yoder when it came back to earth a mile and a half away. The chances of this happening are incalculable; people in cities shoot off guns to celebrate all the time, and you rarely hear of a fatality from it, however foolish the practice is, and here in the countryside, with homes set far apart a young girl dies? Very strange. The man who shot the gun, whose name has not been released, will probably be charged with some kind of criminal negligence.
And while this death is tragic for her family and her Old Order community – I was wrong to assume she was New Order from her address- as well as for the man responsible for her death, thank God it was not an intentional act. At least the Amish of Wayne and Holmes counties can sleep at night and not lie up wondering if their child is next.