Rachel Zimmerman Starr Archive

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‘Strict 35’ sect members headed to trial in attempted luring

Members Accused Of Trying To Lure Girl From Family

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — The Lancaster County district attorney said members of a religious group will face trial for allegedly trying to lure a 14-year-old girl away from her family.

Members of the religious sect known as Strict 35 are facing charges.

– Source / Full Story: ‘Strict 35’ Members Headed To Trial In Attempted Luring, WGAL, Apr. 16, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

At the time, the teenage girl from the Denver area said, her neighbors from the splinter Mennonite church were her only friends.

So, when Megan Ramsey’s parents forbade her from seeing them any more, she followed a church member’s instructions and slipped away in the middle of the night in Plain Sect clothing.

The pastor and two adult female members of Reidenbach Mennonite Church on Thursday were ordered to stand trial in Lancaster County Court on felony charges of concealing Ramsey from the police and her distraught parents on Dec. 10, 2009.

The three had plans to take the girl and about 40 church members with them when they moved to Kentucky, according to Megan and police.

Rachel Zimmerman Starr, 54, of 448 Pleasant Valley Road, Denver, is charged with interference with the custody of children and criminal conspiracy/concealment of the whereabouts of a child. Starr convinced the girl to run away and helped hide her, according to police.

Alda Hoover Martin, 23, of 165 W. Maple Grove Road, Denver, is charged with criminal conspiracy/concealment of the whereabouts of a child. Martin, police and the teen said at the hearing, hid Ramsey — first in a pile of hay in a barn and then in a chicken coop.

Aaron Zimmerman Hoover, 47, of 449 W. Maple Grove Road, Denver, pastor of the church and Martin’s brother, is charged with criminal conspiracy/concealment of whereabouts of a child. Police said he knew of the plot and did not help police officers when they were trying to find the child.

The homeschooled teen told of how she became friends with her Plain Sect neighbors shortly after her family moved into a rental home on Pleasant Valley Road.

She made friends with adults and children her own age, she said, and about a year later started worshipping with the group.

Her parents at first encouraged the relationship, she said, helping her buy plain clothes so she fit in at services.

Then, due to falling grades, Megan said, her parents told her she could not go to services anymore. Eventually, she was forbidden from seeing the church members.

But she and Starr would hold clandestine meetings in a meadow, she said, and Starr wrote her letters, about 10 in all.

Eventually, Megan said, Starr advised her to run away and gave her a letter with specific instructions for what she was to do the night of the flight. Wear dark clothes and burn this letter, it said.

One part of the letter told her to leave a note in her bedroom for her parents, telling them she was running away because she couldn’t practice her faith. The letter also told Megan to tell her parents not to look for her.

Under questioning from Starr’s defense attorney, Cory Miller, Ramsey answered, “Yes,” when asked if it was her decision to run away and if it was her choice to hide from her parents.

“I really didn’t want it to go this way but, at the time, I thought it was the only way to be able to spend time with my friends. I didn’t have any other friends then,” she said.

Earlier in her testimony, however, she said Starr initiated the decision to run away.

“I don’t think I would ever have thought of the idea,” she said.

None of the three defendants testified. Dressed in plain sect clothing, they sat stoically behind their three defense attorneys.

Much of the church’s congregation showed up to show their support.

– Source / Full Story: Church members face trial for hiding girl from family, Ad Crable, Lancaster Online, Apr. 15, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

A sect pulls up stakes

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.

– Source / Full Story: A sect pulls up stakes, Jon Rutter, Lancaster Online, Mar. 7, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog