TODD & CHRISTIAN COUNTIES, Ky. – Kentucky State Police are investigating ten separate armed robberies and break-ins in Mennonite communities over the weekend.
Officials said they were investigators the attacks against Todd and Christian County Mennonites as hate crimes.
"He was almost in tears when he called me," said Shane Hessey, a friend of one of the victims. "He answered the phone and he said 'Shane, I'm in bad trouble.'"
Most of the weekend accounts are the same. The Mennonites describe their homes broken into in the middle of the night, with anywhere from two to five suspects holding their families at gunpoint and robbing them.
"They are a frugal people," said Todd County Sheriff Billy Stokes. "I know that in one of the home invasions [the suspects] only got $15."
Mennonites are Christian Anabaptists, known for their plain lifestyles.
"This would definitely fall under hate crime or targeted group for sure," said Stokes.
Stokes said he has been investigating reports of harassment in the Mennonite community over the past several months. He believes many of the incidents have gone unreported, perhaps because of the Mennonites stance for peace.
"Unless it's something major or repetitive, the [Mennonite] people are reluctant to report anything – they don't want any trouble," said Stokes. "They're very good neighbors to everyone. Anytime there's a crisis, there always first on the scene."
Hessey said patrols have been beefed up in the southern part of the county, but manpower presents difficulty in protecting the Mennonite community. They count on state police to assist them.
"I wish I could provide more protection for them, but that's solely based upon what our fiscal court is able or willing to do for our sheriff's department," said Stokes.
Kentucky State Police officials said the suspects have been described as having dark complexions, ranging in height from 5'7" to 6 feet tall. They were wearing bandanas and ski masks at the time of the attacks. Victims reported the theft of money and one firearm.
Meanwhile Hessey and Stokes fear worse consequences if the suspects are not caught.
"Certainly the fear is that somebody dies in this process of robbing," said Hessey. "It's unfortunate that they're targeting these Mennonite families because they're God-fearing, law abiding, very private families that work very hard for what they have."
"One of two things are eventually going to happen," said Stokes. "Either the perpetrators are going to go into the wrong house thinking it's a (Mennonite) house – we're a real community and most of the people here have weapons. Or the perpetrators are going wind up getting spooked and kill somebody innocent. Either which way it spells out disaster."