- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

MOUNT HOPE, Ohio (AP) — It’s an annual prank in this tranquil Amish community, where men wear straw hats and women bonnets and plain dresses: Youngsters hide in cornfields and hurl tomatoes at passing cars.

This year, the mischief turned deadly.

A motorist who was pelted several times on Labor Day got out of his car and fired three to five shotgun blasts into the 7-foot-high corn, killing 23-year-old Steven L. Keim.

No arrest has been made.

Residents are reeling from shock, unable to understand why anybody would retaliate so violently. Authorities say the county hadn’t seen a firearm-related homicide in about three decades.

“The prank has gone on for years and years,” said Marty Yoder, who owns Marty’s Shoes in this town about 60 miles south of Cleveland. “All over the county, it’s been happening every year.”

The shooting occurred just north of Mount Hope in Holmes County, where the clip-clop of horses pulling Amish buggies is just as common as the sound of passing automobiles.

Holmes County has one of the world’s densest populations of Amish, who do not believe in modern conveniences such as electricity and automobiles.

Mr. Keim, 23, an Apple Creek resident of Amish heritage, died of multiple wounds to the chest, Holmes County Coroner Robert Anthony said.

The victim was with about 10 other members of the Amish community, ages 15 to 23. The group told the sheriff’s office they had been throwing tomatoes and firing paintball guns at passing vehicles.

The crime scene is marked by trampled cornstalks that interrupt an otherwise uniform stretch of roadside corn. About eight rows into the field, well hidden from the road, two buckets of rotting, fly-covered tomatoes still sat.

According to the sheriff’s department, the driver of a Lincoln or Cadillac stopped, got out and threatened to shoot whomever threw the tomatoes Monday night.

The vehicle turned around and drove past the cornfield again. The car was struck with tomatoes a second time.

About 25 minutes later, the vehicle passed the cornfield two more times. On a third pass, the driver stopped and challenged the group to throw more tomatoes — then fired his shotgun into the cornfield.

The sheriff’s department did not have a suspect, only a vague description of a middle-aged male of medium height.

Residents say the community will be nervous until the shooter is caught.

“People won’t be resting too good until they know who it is, at least,” said Ivan Miller, 41. “He should be punished. The guy lost it.”

Wayne Miller, an Amish man from nearby Kidron, said the young people “shouldn’t have been throwing tomatoes.”

“But if people start shooting people for throwing tomatoes, this country’s in bad shape,” he said.

Mr. Keim was born into an Amish family, but his family left the Amish church and became Mennonites, said Mr. Yoder.

Mennonite beliefs are similar Amish ones, but Mennonites drive cars and use more modern conveniences.

“He was a real outgoing person, always willing to help you,” Mr. Yoder said.

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