Oct. 8, 2011 — -- Amish people in eastern Ohio are being attacked by having their hair and beards cut off, possibly by members of a formerly Amish group.
The attacks occurred on five families over the past three weeks in Carroll, Holmes, Jefferson and Trumbull counties, which form the heart of one of the nation's largest Amish populations.
The attackers are believed to be from a group of people who were once Amish, but have now gathered together near Bergholz in Jefferson County, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The group consists of about 18 families, most of whom are related. The group's compound includes a number of houses and barns.
The formerly Amish group has drawn the attention of law enforcement before over an alleged threat against law enforcement and a relative who was convicted of sexual contact with a minor, according to ABC News affiliate WTAE.
On Wednesday night, a pickup truck and a trailer pulled into the driveway of Myron and Arlene Miller around 10:45 p.m., according to the Post-Gazette. Four to six men knocked on the door. When the Millers' 15-year-old daughter answered, they asked for her father, who is the bishop for the Mechanicstown Amish church, the paper reported.
When Miller appeared at the door, according to the newspaper account, a man grabbed him by his beard and forced him out the front door.
"The other guys came up and surrounded him," Arlene Miller told the Post-Gazette.
The attackers then cut out a chunk of the bishop's beard with scissors, according to the account. Miller struggled to get away, and the attackers were unable to cut off his entire beard. The leader of the attackers ordered the group to flee.
Miller, in addition to another man who was assaulted on Wednesday night, has decided to press criminal charges, which is not common practice among the Amish.
"[The Amish] are loath to press charges because it conflicts with their religious beliefs about nonviolence and not using force [or the force of law] in their daily life," Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College and an expert on Amish life, told ABC News.
"This story is very odd and clearly outlier behavior, an aberration in Amish society," he said. "Amish-on-Amish violence is extremely rare. In some cases, it happens when someone has a psychological disorder and/or during Rumspringa, when some youth engage in mischief or pranks that can go awry."
Cutting the victims' beards is degrading and insulting in the Amish culture.
"Wearing a beard is a common and required practice for all married Amish men," Kraybill said. "Likewise, women do not cut their hair based on biblical teaching. These appear to be malicious assaults on symbols of Amish identity by a renegade little group of Amish origin who, for whatever reason, have been estranged from other Amish groups."