No more than a hundred yards away, in an adjacent house, Yoder's cousin Sam C. Yoder, 40, had also come awake. "Either the crackling or the light woke me up," said Yoder, a round-faced, affable Amish farmer. "It was bright in the room, even with the curtain drawn. I pulled it aside and hollered to my daughter, 'Sam's barn is burning!' " By the time he got outside to Hayes and the others, it was too late, "but then as I turned," he said, "I saw sparks from somewhere else blowing into the lane." His barn was on fire too. "My old horse came stumbling out and fell over dead," says Yoder. "He was a sorry-looking mess. Then my bull came out—blind, burned and shivering." Arriving firemen—the first of 24 companies that darted around the valley that night—did help save Sam C.'s barn, but as he worked alongside them, Yoder looked up and saw, far in the distance, another orange glow. "That was the barn of my brother-in-law, Christ Yoder," said Sam C. "I didn't know what was going on, if it was the end of the world or what."
People all over the Kishacoquillas (aka "Big") Valley, 60 miles northwest of Harrisburg, are still dazed and confused by the attack. "Violence like this has never happened around here, to Amish or non-Amish," said one longtime resident. Now suddenly, in a two-hour arson spree, seven Amish barns had been torched, six burned to the ground, 177 horses and cows killed—in all, about $1 million in damage done. "It's been like a war zone here since," said Maj. Terry Clemens of the Pennsylvania State Police, who is leading the investigation. "A thing like this lights up a whole community." Said Hayes, president of the Kishacoquillas National Valley Bank, who is heading relief efforts: "The rest of us here feel—embarrassed is too light a word. It's important to us that the Amish know they're a valued part of our heritage."
The leading question, of course, is why anyone would target the deeply pacifist Amish, who have been living in this valley largely unmolested for 200 years. Cleaving to the admonition in Romans, "Be not conform to the world," the 3,000 or so Amish in this region—about a quarter of the valley's population—today live a life of 18th-century Christian simplicity, wearing plain garb, mostly eschewing electricity and clip-clopping along the roads in their horse-drawn buggies. Their children are drilled in the motto JOY ("Jesus is first, you are last, and others are in between").
So who would want to hurt them? To date there have been no arrests, but much speculation. The FBI has joined the hunt, examining the arson as a possible "hate crime" involving civil rights violations. But another rumor is that matches might have been tossed in the barns by a vengeful Amish who was once excommunicated by the local church. There are arguments against that scenario, including reports of a white car seen at some burn sites that night. For now, Major Clemens will only say opaquely, "We are focusing on several individuals, but they are not classified as suspects."
Ironically the Amish themselves may have hampered the probe. "A fire scene has to cool before we can do our work," said Major Clemens, "but the Amish started rebuilding immediately, which has been a big problem. They actually cleaned crime scenes up." One reason for speed is that almost none of the Amish involved carry insurance—they depend on each other for help in a crisis—so no claims adjusters have to poke the ashes. Primarily though, said Major Clemens, "planting season is almost here. That's why I didn't think it would be proper to insist they delay the cleanup. There's an envelope of time for them to get seeds into the field, and building barns is slowing them down. They're under the gun."
Small armies of Amish, many from elsewhere in Pennsylvania, have thus been swarming onto every barn site. "It's not an organized thing," said a teal-shirted young Amish man in a straw hat as he trudged through the spring mud near Esle Hostetler's ruined barn. Behind him, the first new beams were going up. "Two van-loads of us came up from Lancaster County for the day." As they labor, the Amish have also been assisted—and stunned—by the thousands of donations flowing in from around the country. William Hayes said that the Big Valley Barn Relief Fund he chairs has so far collected more than $400,000, along with pledges of cows, horses, feed and seed, "contributions from every state."
Of all the farmers attacked, Isaac Yoder ("That name's more common than Smith around here," said a resident) of Reedsville came closest to total disaster. Besides destroying his barn (along with 33 cows and seven horses) and blackening a storage shed, the fire threatened his home. "See where the porch is curled up a little?" said Yoder, 59, with a bewildered air, pointing to his house. "We had to carry all our furniture out of the house in the night and set it in the road. The house was getting hot, and we thought it might catch. That was kind of scary." But does Yoder want whoever did it captured? "Only if he wants to do it again," he says with a shrug.
In this, Yoder echoes other Amish victims. "There's no hate in these people, no anger," said John Baker, a non-Amish volunteer working at Isaac Yoder's. "That's what's amazing. It's all just, 'Let's get the barn built.' " Privately, though, the Amish may be less Job-like in their forbearance. According to Clair DeLong, a retired farm agent who has worked here among the Amish for decades and has been acting as liaison between them and investigators, "The Amish are very anxious to see the perpetrators caught. They'll forgive them, but they wouldn't mind them going to jail for quite a few years."
Indeed, this whole episode has filled the Amish with a number of unfamiliar emotions. Insular and self-reliant—they don't even accept Social Security checks—they have been forced by the magnitude of their losses to take outside aid for the first time. "They do recognize," says DeLong, "that for someone to be blessed as a giver, someone else has to be the recipient, and that it would show unseemly pride to refuse the help. They need it and they're grateful." At the same time, he adds, "the Amish in this valley are unhappy with the invasion of their privacy. The wall they've built around their society has been breached." Unlike the Lancaster Amish to the south, who—thanks to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors Bureau—endure a tide of more than 3 million tourists a year, almost no one till now has come to trouble the Amish in this valley.
No wonder that at a sawmill last week, where the Amish were turning out oak and pine planks, they were laboring furiously. They want the barns up and their old lives back in a hurry. "We've got more Lancaster Amish coming on Friday to help raise the barns," shouted Sam C. Yoder over the shriek of the sawmill blade. "We told them we wouldn't be ready, but they said they're coming anyway."
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