The Sad Case of Amish Murderer Ed Gingerich

The crime was horrendous.

But the point now is not the crime – it’s the hard issues at hand for the Amish community of Ed Gingerich – allegedly the only Amishman ever tried and convicted for the death of another human being.

Gingerich killed his wife in a fit of insanity in 1993.

Ed_gingerich_amish_killer
Photo: Tom Boyle, Titusville Herald
A paranoid schizophrenic, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served a few years in a prison psychiatric ward. He was released in 1998 and moved to Harmony Haven, an Amish-run retreat and mental home in Michigan.

While the practice of shunning gets a lot of attention from outsiders, Amish belief also includes an important provision for forgiveness.

The process for getting back in shape looks like this, in a nutshell:  errant members confess and can be reinstated after showing repentance and a change of heart.

But as Dr. Steven Nolt of Goshen College says that the process ‘more supposes someone who buys a car’ than someone who commits such a heinously violent act.

Amish in Gingerich’s small northwestern PA community are terrified of him. Sympathetic others, including outsiders, support what they see as his attempt at reconciliation.

His community’s bishop has excommunicated members who have contact with him, including two of his brothers.  Members of Gingerich’s family have been accused of harassing others in the church, causing some to move away.

Gingerich has received particular sympathy from some members of the New Order Amish, who preach a more personal form of spirituality. After his wife’s killing, Gingerich was quartered in Harmony Haven, a mental home in Michigan for Amish and Mennonites. It was there that he came into contact with the New Order.

“I love Ed immensely. I’ve prayed with the man. I’ve cried with the man” said one New Order supporter.

Should Gingerich have a shot at redemption, as many say he should?  Do the wishes of his community, some of whom asked that he be ‘locked up forever’ count for more than the state’s judgment?

Are outsiders, including more progressive New Order Amish, overstepping their bounds by advocating so strongly for Gingerich?

I won’t go further, but a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where I’ve taken a lot of the facts on the case from (see http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07119/781928-85.stm), is a thought-provoking look at a thankfully rare situation in the Amish world.


Update: Ed’s story came to a sad end in 2011 when he was discovered in a Pennsylvania barn, having hung himself.

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    4 Comments

    1. Schizophrenia is such an awful mental illness. I hope he is receiving proper medication treatment.

    2. yes, I can’t imagine. Apparently he has medication available to him. Whether he consistently takes it is up to speculation.

      One of the sources says that he had a problem when he switched from a brand name med to a generic, but i don’t know how accurate that is.

      I wonder what will happen now that he has been accused of abducting his 17-year old daughter. It sounds like there are two sides to that story. Hopefully all involved here can find peace.

      1. Me

        No miracle pill...

        You can’t expect a pill to cure a mental illness. That’s ridiculous. The man needs deep healing and redemption. The Amish sure made a show about forgiving the school shooter, but they won’t forgive one of their own? The guy might very well be scary. Not sure why they didn’t forgive him.

        1. Stover

          Follow up

          The man gut his wife like a deer in front of his childten. After all of their attempts to help him, he came back and abducted his daughter with the help of his brothers. Then when they got her back, ultimately a local Amish family allowed him to move in with them and help around their business. He wound up hanging himself in their barn. I don’t think the issue was whether his own people would have compassion…it was whether he could stop being a danger to himself and others…that man simply needed more help than his own people could provide. Paranoid schizophrenia can be a very dangerous disease to self and others.