By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton
To have an Amish barn burn to the ground is a tragedy. To find that the family’s eldest son was burned with it is beyond tragedy. To find that it was a homicide is unthinkable. Yet that is what Chief Kate Burkholder is faced with. A young man whom everybody loved, according to all reports, 18-year-old Danny Gingerich, had been enjoying his Rumspringa before being baptized and then married to the neighbor girl. All of that changed with the fire — and the homicide.
In addition to helping his father full time on the family farm, Danny worked part time at the local farm store. He also occasionally helped neighboring farmers. Everyone gave him high praise, though in a few cases Kate detected a little reticence.
Danny was not the only Amish youth who worked out. A Beachy Amish family had opened a mercantile store in a refurbished barn, and it employed their daughter and her three closest friends — or at least there were three friends. Emma Miller, one of the three, had recently committed suicide by hanging. When it was discovered that Danny Miller had worked on the Miller farm for a short time, Chief Burkholder wondered if there could be a connection. The death of two young Amish so close together was hard to understand even if the circumstances were so different.
And then there was the fact that Danny and his lifelong friend, Milo Hershberger, had recently had words and parted company. Was the breakup harsh enough for murder? An interview with Milo tended to prove his innocence but something he said was jarring. “You want to know about Danny the Saint. I suggest you talk to Emma Miller.”
Who was the real Danny Gingerich? There would be no talking to Emma Miller, and that might explain the parents’ reticence to speak. Some things were simply beyond discussion in the Amish community.
As the mystery deepened, Kate had to re-interview and try to get the full picture. “Life would be a lot easier if people just told you what they know the first time you talked to them, rather than stonewalling or lying or playing those hide-and-seek games some folks are so damn fond of.” Chief Burkholder has her work cut out for her.