Shattered Calm

A murder in Amish country

Crime and other “worldly” problems rarely touch the plain-living Amishand Mennonite residents of New Holland, Pa. Indeed, no one could recallany precedent for the violence against Naomi Huyard, a frail, friendlywoman of 50. On the evening of Nov. 27, the Amish woman left herfarmhouse and walked across the road to the home of John and LillianHerr to store several boxes of cauliflower in a freezer in theirgarage. When she did not return, her sister became alarmed and notifiedneighbors, who called the police.After a three-hour search of the neighborhood, a state trooper foundHuyard’s partly nude body under a blanket in the bed room of theHerrs’ adopted son Jimmy. Bound and gagged, the 90-lb. woman had been suffocated and stabbed 16 times.

Jimmy, 18, was arrested and charged with the murder. At a preliminaryhearing last week, Lillian Herr testified that a bloody knife foundunder a pillow in the bedroom was her son’s. Jimmy, a lapsed Mennonitewho had been paroled on a burglary charge three weeks before Huyard’sdeath, denies killing her. Family members on both sides say that thevictim and accused had no reason to dislike each other. “Ifsomebody would have told Naomi that boy was there, she would have goneanyway,” says Isaac Huyard, one of four brothers who live onnearby farms. Herr’s mother says Jimmy was asleep when she left forwork on the day of the crime. John Herr, 60, an industrial custodian,returned from work at about 6 p.m., an hour or so after Naomi Huyardleft her farm. Herr fixed himself some thing to eat, and Jimmy came upfrom the basement a few minutes later. Herr asked his son to completesome chores. When word of the search party reached them, young Herrjoined it. “He acted normal all evening,” his father says.

The Herrs adopted Jimmy and his brother Raymond, 19, as toddlers, addingto three daughters of their own. Obedient as a child, the adolescentJimmy came to scorn the Herrs’ religious habits. After police pickedhim up several times on burglary charges, he was sent to aMennonite-run youth village for three years. Back home at 16, hedropped out of high school, rented an apartment and took a job as adishwasher. He later joined the Army but deserted after a few months. One friend said Jimmy was bored and frustrated by the confining atmosphere of the Amish-Mennonite community. “He talked a lot lately about wanting to find his real parents,” the friend added. “Jim experienced a big void, and a lot of his problems stemmed from that void.”

The Huyard clan, who, like most of their Amish neighbors, drivehorse-and-buggy rigs and wear homemade black garb, has cleaved to itsfaith and offered the accused killer forgiveness. As he painted a shedon his hilltop property, Isaac Huyard cited the Bible: “Resist notevil, but overcome evil with good.” David E. Huyard, 75, Naomi’suncle and the family patriarch, suggested that the murder issymptomatic of a growing rebelliousness among Amish and Mennoniteyouth, who are taught to live peacefully and according to the Bible.”We’re being tested and tried in many different ways,” hesays. “I believe we can survive. But I don’t know how long.”

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