Amish and “English” come together in response to abduction

Amish buggies. Archive Photo of the Day: Judy Andrus Toporcer

Amish buggies. Archive Photo of the Day: Judy Andrus Toporcer

Here in the North Country, the Amish and English live side by side, neighbor next door to neighbor. Lives intersecting mostly superficially—you stop at the display of baskets set up in a village parking lot, you see the sign “Eggs” on a back road and pick up a dozen, or you just barely avoid a collision with a buggy on a narrow road late at night.

The barriers were crossed yesterday as we English mustered everything we have—cars, phones, helicopters, internet, law enforcement records on sex offenders, search teams—to find the two Amish girls abducted from the vegetable stand in front of their Heuvelton farm.

I live in Amish country. On my road and on every road in the old DeKalb/Depeyster/Heuvelton area, Amish people are our neighbors and, in some cases, our friends. English and Amish were consumed by the abduction. On Route 812 and the side roads off of it, searchers on foot combed the ditches and corn fields. Police and emergency vehicles lined the shoulders; helicopters hovered around Mt. Alone across from the  farm where the girls live. We were all worried and imagining the worst.

My first instinct yesterday was to visit my closest Amish friends who are neighbors and friends with the family whose girls were abducted. Actually, I stopped by their place twice and later met them on the road as they were headed over to lend their support to the family.

My conversation with my Amish friends was the same as my conversation with everyone else I talked with yesterday. We were all sick at heart, worried, horrified. We all agreed that this was a terrible “first” for our community, something shocking that had never happened before.

Because we are friends, I could take it a little deeper: talk about the impact this would have on so many Amish families whose children run the vegetable stands. It’s part of their farm economy. I could mention my horror that people would take advantage of the Amish vulnerability –no phones or cars to use in response to an event like this.

I felt ashamed and somehow responsible—our “sick” English society, you know—for this terrible event.

We shared many of the same feelings. But their perspective is a bit different: they do not feel like “special” or “other” victims. This could happen to anyone. And, they pointed out firmly that as soon as the girls were taken, the family raced to an English neighbor’s home and the police were called within minutes of the abduction.

My Amish friends see the person or persons who abducted the girls as “sick” or even wicked. It was a good vs. bad person or behavior thing. I was trying to lend my Amish friends support through a sharing of the anguish. In fact, they lent me support by making this a human, a family, a parental story rather than an Amish vs. English thing. They made me feel a little better, in the midst of the worry we all shared.

This event may lead to some changes in how Amish families run their vegetable stands, at least in the near future. But I think it has also changed, perhaps in a small way, how our two cultures intersect. This was our collective disaster. We came together from our hearts. Later today, when I see my friends we will share our relief. Isn’t that what everyone across the county is feeling today? Not so Amish vs. English. Just all of us relieved and thankful.

19 Comments on “Amish and “English” come together in response to abduction”

  1. Steve Easter says:

    Beautifully said, Ellen. Thank you for sharing your mixed communal and private feelings about this.

  2. It’s telling that as much as we like to play up differences in things like race, religion, politics, sexual orientation, etc., at the core we all have the same basic human needs and desires.

  3. michael coffey says:

    Amen, Ellen. We are indeed relieved. Children are so widely in peril.

  4. becky harblin says:

    Yes, Ellen well said.
    I too felt guilt for our ‘English ways’ and your friends comments help, but oddly I also find solace that they are ‘people of faith’ and that is sustaining for them.

  5. Dave Weissbard says:

    Good job Ellen.

  6. Terence says:

    Very well said.

  7. Sandy Given says:

    The thought of any child being taken from parents and their own surroundings is just unimaginable. Never knowing where they are or what they may suffer would keep most from sleeping at night. I too am ashamed of our society and the lack of morals of some.i do not believe they targeted Amish. I believe that they took what was easiest to get. Shame on them and I pray that they are caught and do time for what they have done. They should be made to face the parents of these little ladies!! They will be kinder however than I myself would ever be. God brought theses little ones home and someday the abductors will meet their maker and answer for what they have done. Praise God they are home!

  8. Dawn says:

    what a relief the girls have returned. thanks Ellen. we are indeed one human family

  9. Kent Gregson says:

    This is the story that should be heard on the national media.

  10. Kent Gregson says:

    This is the story that should be heard on the national media.

  11. dbw says:

    Years ago as an undergrad at a small college in Ohio in the heart of Amish country I took a course called Amish Religion and Life. It was taught by a German professor. He had written a book and it was used in the course along with other materials. It wasn’t an academic or scholarly work, though very well written. But its title, Our Amish Neighbors, said everything. And, if this unfortunate event makes English and Amish more aware of each other as neighbors that will be a good thing.

  12. Thank you for this heart-felt and intelligent piece, Ellen. This is meaningful reporting, and I am pleased to see my photo accompanying it.

  13. Rancid Crabtree says:

    I wish people would figure out that the Amish are just people, not saints, not ignorant Luddites, not backward and, for the most part, not wearing their religion on their sleeve. It’s more lifestyle than just religion and each church is a little different from the next. I know Amish families that travel several miles from their homes to attend church with a particular Bishop rather go to the one run by their neighbor who is one of the Bishops of the church in their more local area. They have a long time feud going with that Bishop and they never go to that areas church. They have the same types of likes and dislikes, feuds, bigotry (oh yes, the Amish can be extremely bigoted!), family problems, bad kids, adultery, substance abuse and all the other issues the English have. The difference comes in what technologies they’ll make use of and where. That’s about it as far as any real difference. The Amish I know, and I know a lot of them, are for the most part just as good as most of the rest of the people I know. I’ve eaten and worked with them, attended parts of their church services, been one of the English they turn to when problems crop up. They are just people.

    Sadly, the 2 animals that took these girls would have just a likely taken 2 English girls had the chance been there. Our society is circling around the outlet of the toilet and headed for the cesspool. THAT is the real issue as I see it. What is producing these scum? How do we address it? If some one can come up with a solution, please put it in the works. I’m betting a search of the home and computers will reveal a lot of porn of all types. That’s the disease thats driving this stuff.

  14. Walker says:

    You can find Stephen Howells II and Nicole Vaisey on Facebook easy as pie, and I’ll tell you what– they don’t look remotely like monsters. I don’t pretend to know what went on, but I’m not at all sure that it’s what we’re all assuming.

  15. Walker says:

    Well, I guess I’m wrong. At least according to the current story in the NY Times. All very strange!

  16. Amadee French says:

    Well said Ellen! I too am friends with Abe & Lizzie and other members of Lizzie’s family……I count myself lucky to be accepted at table in a number of Amish homes- I hope that this may also be a beginning- most of we “english” do not really know our Amish neighbors- course I am Irish not English! LOL…..but perhaps now we can see past the buggies/roadside stands……..150 years ago most of us were them..and they know everything we forgot.

  17. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Another misconception. It wasn’t 150 years ago that we were so similar, it was up into the 1930’s. IT was the centralized school districts that really moved the Amish out of the mainstream. An Amish friend tells me his parents both attended public school until 1938 or so. They aren’t stuck in a time warp anymore than we are. Truth be told, some of the nicer homes in my town are Amish and the nicest farms are all Amish.

  18. ann says:

    What a sad world we are living in … those monsters shattered the amish… and the amish forgive… I can’t on this or any other child molster…

  19. Linda Casserly says:

    Thanks Ellen for your thoughts and story. I have four granddaughters in my life now, and I do not know how I would have handle something like this if it had been my family. In my full time job as dep. Town Clerk, I processed a lot of births and deaths in the Canton Amish community and know a lot of these families. We would often talk about their lifestyle and share stories about our children. I was sickened by what happened to these girls. My sister called from downstate to let me know it was on National news and asked, “How could this happen up where you live?” We are now not untouchable from societies problems and I always felt safe in letting my children bike into town (3 mi. away). Now, I am not happy that I have to think about that with my granddaughters. I also grieve for this to happen in the North County and hope that it does not start a chain reaction. I do not want to live in fear and that is why I live here. Hopefully, you can print out your story and give it to the Millers and let them know they are so thought of and their relationship to all of us English.

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