MESOPOTAMIA - The invasion of a Mesopotamia home in which a man's beard and a woman's hair were cut was one in a series of Amish-on-Amish attacks across four eastern Ohio counties, including two on Tuesday, investigators said.
The attacks were carried out by members of a group of Amish religious castoffs near Bergholz over spiritual differences, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said Thursday.
The Amish men known as the ''Bergholz Clan,'' led by Bishop Sam Mullet, are under investigation by at least four sheriff's departments. No arrests have been made but investigators said they plan to file assault and burglary charges.
Abdalla contacted Trumbull County Sheriff Thomas Altiere last month to notify him of a possible unreported attack Sept. 6 at 4088 state Route 87. Abdalla said he found out when attackers returned to his county with the hair and beard cuttings to prove to Mullet that his orders were carried out.
Lt. Richard McBride said that when he went to the home last month, at first he encountered resistance from resident Barbara Miller. After some coaxing, Miller pointed to her husband, whose beard had been cut, and said, "They did that to him," the sheriff's report states.
Then she removed the bandanna she was wearing, revealing several patches of missing hair. "And they did this to me," she told McBride.
Miller told McBride that the attackers were led by two close relatives of theirs. Miller said they would not be pressing charges, but asked McBride multiple times to inform a relative that she and her husband were praying for all of them, the sheriff's report states.
Miller reported that she and her husband moved to Trumbull County from Jefferson County about four years ago. Relatives remained behind and joined Mullet's "cult." Miller said there are no such cults locally, although two neighbors made threats similar to her relative's remarks but had not acted on them, the report states.
Attempts by the Tribune Chronicle to contact members of local Amish communities for comment were unsuccessful.
Other attacks have been reported over the last three weeks.
In Carroll County on Tuesday, a group of Amish men knocked on a door of an Amish man's home, pulled him out by his beard and tried to cut off his beard, reports state. The attackers referred to themselves as part of the Bergholz Clan, according to the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.
In Holmes County on Tuesday, a group of Amish men burst into a home and cut the hair off men and women inside and cut the beards off the men. Holmes County Sheriff Timothy Zimmerly said the victims included a 13-year-old girl and a 74-year-old man.
Zimmerly and one of his detectives were at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Wednesday gathering evidence taken from a truck and horse trailer that was believed to have been used in connection with the assaults.
The driver of the trailer told deputies that he went to a horse auction in Holmes County on Tuesday with 27 Amish persons who rode in the truck and horse trailer, according to a Jefferson County sheriff's report.
The Amish men had the driver stop at a Holmes County home. A group of the men got out of the truck, walked up to the house and then came back, telling the driver to "go," according to the report.
The driver told deputies that the same thing happened at the home in Carroll County.
Beverly Cushman, Westminster College associate professor of religion and Christian education, said the act of cutting hair and beards is meant to denigrate the victims.
"The Bible says women are not to cut their hair, that hair is a blessing and is part of a woman's beauty and it belongs to their husband. To have hair forcefully cut is to be shamed," Cushman said.
Cushman said the same is true for men's beards.
"For the men with a beard, you can only begin to grow a beard when you get married. It is a symbol of full status, a symbol of your adult manhood. Again, for it to be cut is to be shamed," she said.
Abdalla said, "One Amish man told me he'd rather be dead than have his beard cut off."
Zimmerly said Holmes County will be seeking felonious assault and burglary charges against the attackers. Carroll County also plans to pursue criminal charges.
However, many Amish in Carroll County are disappointed with their prosecutor's decision to wait until November to present the case before a grand jury instead of pursuing immediate charges, Abdalla said. They are afraid the attackers will return or hurt others, he said.
Abdalla said Mullet "thumbed his nose" at other bishops, and claims that Mullet has threatened multiple times to have the sheriff killed.
"If I were called tomorrow and told they're all dead up there, I wouldn't be surprised. I'd put him up against Jim Jones," Abdalla said. "All I can tell you is, that guy's dangerous."
A group of 35 Amish residents in the Bergholz area filed a $35 million federal lawsuit against the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office concerning a Sept. 17, 2007, raid on their property that was part of a child custody case.
The lawsuit claims the sheriff's department special response team surrounded the Amish schoolhouse and the home of Mullet in an attempt to retrieve two children that were part of a custody case in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court.
A member of the Bergholz Amish community, Crist Mullet was sentenced to six months in the Eastern Ohio Correction Center in October 2008 by Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge David Henderson for his guilty plea to three counts of of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.
Crist Mullet was designated as a Tier II sex offender, which requires him to report his address to the county sheriff every 180 days for 25 years.
Herald Star reporter Mark Law contributed to this article.