The 47-year-old [Aaron] Hoover belongs to a small Mennonite sect that rejects modern trappings and immerses itself in the teachings of Scripture.
Recently, though, the group’s loyalty to God’s law got it tangled up with man’s.
Police arrested Hoover in December along with Rachel Starr – his 54-year-old sister and a resident of the same rural community in Brecknock Township — for concealing a 15-year-old girl who wanted to join their church.
Police also took into custody 23-year-old Alda Martin, who stands accused of hiding the teen in a chicken coop on her property at 165 W. Maple Grove Road.
The Martins’ 55½-acre steer and horse farm is up for public auction March 30; six or seven other farms in the vicinity are also for sale. Church members are in the process of migrating to Kentucky.
The defendants’ congregation is known as the Daniel Hoover group, one of many latter-day spinoffs from the Old Order Groffdale Conference.
Donald B. Kraybill, a local expert on Plain culture, said he believes the church is a tiny sectarian community “that is not representative of most Old Order Mennonites.”
People who know the Hoovers and their friends describe them as good neighbors, but even more socially isolated and technologically backward than the better recognized Old Order Amish.
They drive horses and buggies and don’t use phones, petroleum fuels or motorized farm equipment.
“They’re people that live off the land,” said a Hoover neighbor who resides near Fivepointville.
“They have little insight” into the larger society and are likely shamed by the way their case has been portrayed in the media, added the neighbor, who asked that her name not be used. “They have their own little world.”
According to a Jan. 27 affidavit of probable cause filed in Hartman’s office by state police Trooper Chad S. Roberts, the girl had been attending Aaron Hoover’s church for several months before she disappeared in the middle of the night Dec. 9.
Her father, Douglas Ramsey, told police she’d left a note revealing her intent to run away. Ramsey, who had earlier forbidden the girl to continue going to church, worried that she was being hidden.
The Ramseys were tenants of Aaron Hoover’s and lived in a nearby house.
When troopers from Ephrata showed up at Hoover’s door after Ramsey called them at about 5 a.m., Dec. 10, according to the affidavit, he wouldn’t tell them anything.
Church members complained that the girl’s parents were blocking her from practicing her faith; troopers told them it was illegal to conceal her.
“They wouldn’t cooperate with us in any way,” Trooper Roberts said.
The search led to Alda Martin’s farm some 19 hours later. Troopers took custody of the teen from the woman after about 15 minutes.
In a Jan. 11 interview, police said, Starr confirmed corresponding with the girl about running away and said that she gave her plain clothes and took her to Martin in the wee hours.
Starr also confirmed that she wanted to take the teen with her when the church moved to Kentucky, the affidavit said.
The Daniel Hoover group is descended from the Reidenbach Mennonites.
The Reidenbachs, nicknamed the “Thirty-fivers” after the initial number of dissenters, split from the Groffdale Conference (Wenger Mennonite Church) in 1946 because they did not want their young men taking part in Civilian Public Service programs as an alternative to military duty.
Another major division took place in 1977 when a new generation of separatists renounced propane gas and motorized farm machinery.
The 15 or so Thirty-fiver splinters are clannish, family-sized units that embrace ancient Swiss and southern German Anabaptist traditions, according to “Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites,” a book by Kraybill and James P. Hurd.
The Daniel Hoover group formed in 2007 over a disagreement about biblical interpretation, according to information from the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.
Observers said the group is likely heading to western Kentucky to get farther away from it all.