STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A group of religious castoffs has been attacking fellow Amish, cutting off their hair and beards in an apparent feud over spiritual differences, a sheriff in eastern Ohio said Thursday.
No charges have been filed, but several victims suffered minor injuries, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said. The investigation has been hampered by the traditional reluctance of Amish to turn to law enforcement.
Men and sometimes women from a group of Jefferson County families disavowed by mainstream Amish have terrorized a half-dozen or more fellow Amish, cutting the beards off men and the hair off men and women, the sheriff said. The attacks occurred over the past three weeks in Carroll, Holmes, Jefferson and Trumbull counties, which form the heart of Ohio's Amish population, one of the nation's largest.
Abdalla said the motive may be related to unspecified religious differences involving 18 Amish families, 17 of them related, who have drawn previous attention from law enforcement, including a threat against the sheriff and a relative convicted of sexual contact with a minor.
Cutting the hair and beards apparently was meant to be degrading and insulting, the sheriff said.
It's common practice for married Amish to have beards, Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College and an expert on Amish life, said in an email to The Associated Press.
"Likewise, women do not cut their hair based on biblical teaching," he told The Associated Press in an email.
Messages were left for the other three sheriffs.
No contact number could be found in court records for the sex offender or in phone listings for his family members. The Amish often shun modern conveniences as matter of spiritual principle.