MIDDLEFIELD -- The Geauga County Sheriff is looking for suspects in a string of hate crimes against the Amish community.
In a span of just a few hours overnight Sunday, two buggies were targeted in attacks and a few Amish businesses burglarized.
"The elements certainly appear to be falling in place to make this a hate crime," said Sheriff Dan McClelland.
All the incidents happened near Nauvoo Road, within minutes by car from Ashtabula and Trumbull counties, with witness reports all tying back to a group of masked men.
It started around 11 p.m. Sunday, when Arlene Weaver and her boyfriend were traveling a buggy outside of her house on Peters Rd.
They noticed they were being tailed and sped away. She told a police dispatcher when she reported the attack the next day that the men chased the buggy, but they did not catch up.
Just a few hours later, Marvin Burkholder and his cousin David, were in their buggy, traveling down Bundysberg Road.
He says they heard nothing until they saw masked men swinging bats at them. David was hit in the leg. And Marvin's elbow was injured.
The Amish don't like to go on camera, but the victims' families tell us they are on guard now, afraid and hoping these suspects will be caught.
By the time deputies got word of the culprits Sunday, three Amish shops had also been broken into. McClelland says only quarters were taken, with the cash registers emptied at the close of business.
While deputies search for the suspects, they are also beefing up patrols.
"This type of crime, whether it occurs in the Amish community, or any other community in Geauga County, is very troublesome," said Sheriff McClelland.
McClelland says they've worked hard to build a relationship of trust with the Amish community, and if gangs think they can target the Amish as victims because they believe these crimes won't be reported: "they're wrong."
They are also processing some surveillance images from one of the businesses, hoping they'll help lead to the culprits.
They only description they have now is very vague: four or five white men, around 20 to 25 years old, traveling in a small grey, four-door car.