Sheriff's deputies are closing in on suspects from a troublemaking Amish splinter group in Ohio who have broken into homes and cut off the beards and hair of other Amish men.
Authorities tell HuffPost Crime they are planning to arrest at least four men who are followers of Sam Mullet, a bishop who Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said has clashed with other Amish leaders for years.
At least three attacks in rural eastern Ohio since September prompted the victims -- all Amish -- to look outside their traditionalist community to seek help from local police.
In one nighttime raid in Carroll County, a group of men knocked on a door, pulled a man out by the beard and tried to chop off his facial hair, the Wheeling Intelligencer reports.
In Holmes County, a posse allegedly broke into a home, lopping off the hair and whiskers of everyone inside, including a 13-year-old-girl and 74-year-old man. There were no serious injuries, according to police.
"Who knows where it's going to end?" Abdalla said to The Huffington Post. "That's why we have to make these arrests."
Holmes and Carroll County sheriff's officials didn't return calls from HuffPost.
The unnamed suspects could be charged with kidnapping, assault, burglary and trespassing, the sheriff said.
Police say Mullet is not a suspect, but he is said to exert influence over the approximately 18 families that live near him in the village of Bergholz. The attackers in Carroll County allegedly identified themselves as the "Bergholz clan" to the victims. One person that deputies plan to arrest is a son of Mullet, Abadalla said.
The victims of the tonsorial onslaughts include two Amish bishops. Abdalla believes that Mullet is a ringleader who ordered his followers to launch the attacks against his potential rivals.
"Those people don't make a move out there without his orders," Abdalla told The Huffington Post. "He calls all the shots."
The Amish community in Jefferson County is small, numbering around 100 individuals, Abdalla said, but is much larger in the neighboring areas.
In Trumbull County last month, men and women allegedly invaded a home and returned to Jefferson County with the freshly cut locks as proof that they carried out Mullet's commands, according to The Intelligencer. The victims said their sons and son-in-law were the culprits, but refused to file a complaint, the Associated Press reports.
Amish do not shave or cut their hair, believing that it's forbidden by the Bible, said Donald Kraybill, an expert who studies the religious minority at Elizabethtown College. To forcibly lob off their locks is a direct insult to their identity, Kraybill said.
"This is very odd and clearly outlier behavior," he wrote to HuffPost. "Amish-on-Amish violences is extremely rare. ... These appear to be malicious assaults on symbols of Amish identity by a wacko little group."
The Huffington Post could not contact Mullet. Bryan Felmet, an attorney who represented Mullet four years ago, said he's no longer a client.
The haircutting banditry is the latest form of tumult that Sheriff Abdalla attributes to Mullet's colony. During a custody dispute in 2007 between Mullet's daughter Wilma Troyer and her husband, armed deputies stormed a schoolhouse to seize Troyer's daughters. At a subsequent hearing, Abdalla claimed that Mullet had threatened his life and that sexual abuse in the Amish community had been covered up.
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