April 3, 2009

Angels in the Skies

Category: News — Ira @ 6:47 pm


Both boys dead? but that’s out of nature. We all
Have been patriots, yet each house must always keep one.
’Twere imbecile, hewing out roads to a wall;
And, when Italy ’s made, for what end is it done
If we have not a son?

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning, excerpt: Mother and Poet

A quiet pall hangs over the Lancaster County Amish community this week. One can feel it, sense it all around. It seeps into every aspect of existence, permeates the days as they slowly pass. Is present in a thousand murmured conversations. A deep gut blow of shock and disbelief. Tragedy has once again been unleashed upon the land, with a suddenness that jolts the senses. And affects even those of us on the peripheral of things.

It descended early last Sunday evening, from a string of seemingly unrelated events. First, a furious thunderstorm whipped through, dropping inches of rain in minutes, accompanied by dime-sized hail in some areas. A tornado touched down in a trailer park about ten miles from my house. After the storm passed, the white specks of hail covered the ground. Water ran everywhere. Beside the roads, and over the roads in places.

Across the county, in the Nickel Mines area, a little nine-year-old Amish boy looked up at the receding banks of storm clouds and saw angels in the skies. He ran to tell his mother. Startled, she smiled kindly and patted his head. There, there, she said. Go and play. But he insisted. He had seen angels. And who can tell a child he didn’t see what he saw?

Shortly after that, around 7 o’clock, along Rt. 340, a few miles east of Intercourse, the dark thing came. Two pickup loads of Amish kids traveling in opposite directions, just east of New Holland Road. For reasons still unknown, one of the trucks skidded into the oncoming lane. May have hydroplaned. A horrific crash. A twisted mass of mangled steel and broken bodies. And fire and blood and death.

Two were killed. Almost instantly, or expired within minutes. Two young men, who were passengers in the truck that lost control. Eighteen and nineteen years old. Several others in critical condition. Flown away in helicopters.

And just like that, the two are gone. Mervin Lapp. Mahlon Lapp. Brothers, from the same family. Their lives extinguished in the prime of their youth. All they were or might have been, all their plans, all their tomorrows, snuffed out like a candle’s flame.

The community staggered. And yet, immediately the old traditions were triggered. Set into motion. Friends and relatives of the family gathered and stayed with them. Others quietly saw to the necessary logistics. Benches, tables, food. Tomorrow, two graves would be dug. About every year or two, it seems, something like this comes down. A tragedy, with loss of young life. Around here, they’ve seen it all before. And will again.

And the details ripple out, in the murmuring small talk. Where they were that day. Where they were going when it happened. A Sunday evening social gathering, with volleyball and hymn singing. But those details are not important.

The details ripple out too, of who they were. Of things that matter. The short chapters of their lives. They were the two oldest of six children. Solid steady Amish boys. In their running around stage. I don’t know if they were “wild.” And I don’t know their hearts. But they were hard working, clean cut. Basically decent kids, as the Lancaster Amish youth tend to be.

I don’t know the family. Of the brothers who died. I can hide behind that comfortable veil of protection. Of anonymity and emotional distance. But through the fog, the inconceivable pain of such devastating loss touches even strangers. I know what pain is, and loss. I’ve lived it, felt it, breathed it. But not at this depth. Not like this. Few of us have.

Parents are supposed to die before their children do. That’s the natural order of things. And when such an unseen and unexpected bolt strikes and takes two of six in one family, it’s impossible to imagine the shock and grief. Of saying good bye to your sons after they are gone. Of clinging to the memories of the last glimpse of them alive, their last conversations, their last words. Of the empty bedrooms, where they will not return to sleep.

And now, in a stoic culture where few emotions ever surface, the father breaking down in tears. The mother bent in grief, and her deep hopeless longing to reach out and gather to her the two sons who only a few short years ago, in her vivid memory, sat laughing on her knees.

It is a hard and bitter thing. For us to contemplate. For both of them to bear.

The younger siblings, they who looked up to their older brothers, will now listen in vain for the familiar sounds of their footsteps and their voices. Hear them in their minds, in the heavy silence that will echo through the emptiness. Or when the wind blows just right. But those footsteps and those voices will never come again.

They will, I think, grasp this new reality in time. Accept it, even. They’ll have to, to survive. But these events, this loss will be seared forever in their hearts.

There is no way to understand such tragedy. To really get hold of it. Or make sense of it. Not in human terms. Was it random chance? God’s will? Fate? The result of choices? Or simply a consequence of a fallen human world?

Because for all of us, especially those who emerged from an Amish background, there, but for the grace of God, go we.

I look back and recall the things I got into, the things I did, some of the foolish choices I made a lifetime ago. The stupid chances I took. And marvel that a similar misfortune did not befall me, or my friends.

Just as well as not, it could have happened. My life snuffed out, like theirs. But it didn’t. And so I’m here today, writing my blog, instead of being a distant fading memory in the minds of my parents and my siblings. It seems so random.

Take a fresh young Amish kid from the farm, throw him out into the unfamiliar world of motor vehicles, alcohol and a host of other strange and wondrous things, and chances are actually pretty decent that he’s going to get hurt, if not killed. Or self destruct.

I’m not saying that was the case here. These guys lived at home all their lives, worked in the neighborhood. By all accounts, they were quiet, decent, hard working. Riding along in their friend’s truck that night. And for them, death came calling.

But in many other Amish communities, especially in the Midwest, kids leave home and live hard dangerous driven lives. Like I did. Like countless others do today.

Where I grew up, we never had such a tragedy. Such sudden, unexpected death. But we heard the preachers from other, larger communities when they passed through. Grave, dramatic eerie tales spun in distinctive sing song rhythms. Of young men who had left to live in the world. Who shook their fists at God. And were killed in some bloody fashion, usually in a car accident. Running into trees or telephone poles. Their lives cut short in a split second. The stories came from Arthur, Illinois, Daviess County and northern Indiana. From Holmes County, and Lancaster. We drank them in, wide eyed. Resolved never to follow such a path to destruction.

And yet, some of us did follow that path. Only the prophesied destruction didn’t fall. It could have. But it didn’t. We made it through the gauntlet. As most do. Some few don’t. It seems so random. And so unfair.

Statistically, such accidents are bound to happen. The sheer number of Amish youth who drive vehicles, and take passengers who might not, dictates that much. And so it does, every year or so, in almost all the bigger settlements. Everyone clucks, talks about it, sympathizes and moves on. The preachers preach it. And it fades away. Until the next one falls.

This one was here and this one was now. They came home for the final time on Monday night at 10 o’clock. The two sons. Home, where they were raised and where they grew and lived and worked. The viewings would be at home, not in some cold antiseptic impersonal funeral home.

The two caskets were carried inside and set up for viewings the next day and evening. The all night wake, as the dark hours slowly passed. Friends and neighbors gathered round, the family never alone.

And the next day the people flooded in for the viewings. In Lancaster, viewings are open to anyone who wants to come. But you must have an invitation to attend the funeral. I’d never heard of such a thing, before I got here. But that’s the way it is. Probably about the only way to control the potential overflowing crowds that would descend otherwise. Especially in a case like this.

I didn’t go to the viewing because I didn’t know them and did not want to intrude upon the family’s grief. But many of the Amish I know did attend. And told me of how it was.

Wednesday morning. The funeral. A dreary day. By late morning, a steady drizzle as even the heavens opened up and wept. They gathered again, those who were invited, for the service. The somber preaching. Two sermons. Then the long period of viewing in the home. The trip to the graveyard, a long snaking line of black buggies. To the same destination in Nickel Mines where the little murdered Amish school girls were buried a few years back.

There, the coffins were opened for one last viewing. Everyone filed through, then stood in silence and tears as the family gathered around for their final farewells. Stricken, exhausted, drained of tears from the sorrow and shock of the past few days, yet they wept again.

Then the coffin lids were closed. The pallbearers stepped to their positions. The crowd followed and quietly surrounded the open graves.

The little boy who had seen the angels in the skies stood there with his family. And watched with tear-stained eyes as his two oldest brothers were returned to the earth.

Ira Wagler
April 3, 2009

POST NOTE: This afternoon (April 3rd) at 2:30 PM, another passenger in the truck that lost control, Stephen Beiler, Jr. passed away. He never woke up from a coma since the accident. At least one other young man remains unresponsive.

Pray for all the families involved and for the young man who still clings to life.



  1. Thanks for letting all of us know about this, Ira. As a mom to a 17, 19, and 20 year old, my heart just breaks for that family – it truly is every parent’s nightmare. If those of us in other states can help in any way, please let us know where to send donations or other forms of help. Take care ~

    Comment by Bethrusso — April 3, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

  2. The angels in the sky is what gives them hope that all might be well with their souls. After all we can only hope we get to heaven. We will never know until the day of judgement. (I am only quoting Amish thinking and teaching on death and standing before God.)

    Comment by Katie Troyer — April 3, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your feelings. Your comments and your perspectives have brought back a lot of memories as I also lost a close family member in a blink of an eye. Even though it was years ago, the hurt may become more bearable but it never goes away.

    Comment by Humdinger — April 4, 2009 @ 8:38 am

  4. Thank you for writing about the boys, you are right; they are someone’s sons, some mother carried them beneath her heart for 9 months. And some mother passed through the travails of birth when they were born and now she must carry a terrific burden of grief. I choose to beleive that she was a godly caring mother who prayed often for her children because she made a songbook with Christian hymns that sold widely. God bless all of you in Lancaster for standing with them thru this time.

    Comment by Rachel — April 4, 2009 @ 9:21 am

  5. My parents visited the parents of one of the victims in the hospital yesterday. He was scheduled for surgery to hopefully help heal his head injuries but his vital signs were too low to begin surgery. They need each and every prayer we can offer to give them strength to help in this time of need. They also plan to set up an account at Susquehanna Bank to help with his and his parents’ hidden expenses such as motel rooms (near the hospital), transportation, meals and such things that the auto insurance will not cover. The thought is if the response is large enough they will be able to help the other victims’ families as they all will have a huge amount of expenses. The one victim has been released from the hospital, one is in rehab and the remaining two are still in induced comas due to the major head injuries they suffered.

    Maybe Ira would consider adding the information to this blog or next week’s blog where donations can be sent when they have the account set up. Let’s not forget to keep praying for the victims and their families as people tend to remember them more soon after the accident, but they will need strength to pick up the pieces for many more weeks.

    Comment by Smucker — April 4, 2009 @ 9:58 am

  6. The morning paper says “police said alcohol was not involved in the crash.” I have a cousin (Amish from MO) whose son was killed instantly when he lost control on a snowy road a couple months ago. The shock is impossible to fathom for loved ones left behind, not to mention the stigma that goes with his driving his own vehicle. You have to have been Amish to understand that.

    Comment by wilma wagler — April 4, 2009 @ 11:55 am

  7. Today, I made my weekly trip to the Lancaster Market in Germantown, MD. I have been going there for over 8 years. I walked into the Market and noticed..”In Loving Memory” signs and it just did not hit me. Until I approached the Lapp’s Candy Stand. ‘Mervy’ always knew exactly what I wanted…Dark Chocolate Caramel. Wait! He’s gone! The shock and devastation was real for 10 minutes. There was a picture at the Restaurant, taken Sunday afternoon. Who would have imagined they would be Angels in the Skies, later in the evening? I left the Market, due to the long lines at the Candy Stand. It was obvious, Mervy and Mahlon were not available for assistance. No! I turned around and went back to the stand and waited….in honor of Mervy and Mahlon. As I ordered my favorites, I began to break down…uncontrollably. This loss is tremendous. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Lapps. I have watched them grow and this is a heart-breaker.

    Ira, I searched & searched and your blog appeared. Thank you. I earlier explained to my little girl that they are now Angels. Lo and behold, your article “Angels in the Skies” was revealed. Thank you. Always remembered…Never forgotten.

    Comment by Jan — April 4, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  8. On Saturday evening I, along with 900+ people listened to the Amish news hotline, where this story was read aloud from start to finish. They have set up a recording of this reading. One tiny detail about this reading disturbs me. Though I am sure many hearts were touched by hearing it, someone faxed a hard copy to Gary Blosser, the head honcho (these people have no access to internet mostly). The Amos man who read it did not know who wrote it. He vaguely referred time and again to a NEWS REPORTER and, no, he had no idea which newspaper published it.

    I speak to the person who is responsible for faxing it in. Yours was a really great idea, but be sure that you credit the author. It took many hours to get this all together, it is an outstanding piece, give credit where it is due, always remember the author could be listening. I know for a fact he was listening last night.

    Comment by Rachel — April 5, 2009 @ 8:17 am

  9. A touching story about a subject we must all someday come face to face with. Death. You WILL face it and you and will face it ALONE.

    It certainly makes you stop and reexamine your own life.

    We will not all die unexpectedly or tragically but we will all die. And does it make a difference or matter? I don’t think it does in the end.

    My childhood friend, neighbor, and cousin was killed in an accident at 34. So sudden and final, just like that. His life was over, and it is painful, very much so. On the other hand my Grandmother whom I lived with for 28 years passed away at 94. Not unexpected. Not a surprise, but the finality, the pain, and the [ I miss you terribly ] part, to me were the same.

    And the older we get the more people we know that are no longer here. I can remember Grandma saying my friends and schoolmates and the people I grew up with are all gone. No son, she would say, it isn’t fun to get old.

    No, Death is never pleasant at any age for those of us left behind, but time IS a great healer,and remember that grief is the price we pay for love. And as Lord Tennyson wrote “Tis better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all.”


    V. B.

    Comment by V. B. — April 5, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  10. Interesting about the 9-year old brother seeing the angels in the sky. Similar to one of the stories told in Elton Lehman’s biography “House Calls and Hitching Posts” written by Dorcas Sharp Hoover. It’s been a while since I read it, but there were a number of Amish children from several families struck by a speeding car when they were walking home from a birthday party. I believe it was the night of the mass funeral for the children that several people, all Amish, in different places, i.e. not all in a group together, heard beautiful music coming from the sky. Angels singing…

    Comment by J. Jutzi — April 5, 2009 @ 8:16 pm

  11. How do you get the Amish news hotline?

    Comment by Nissley — April 5, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  12. Amos Lee Beiler passed away yesterday (Sunday 4/05/09)at 3:15 PM. The doctors recommendation to the family was to remove the life support which they did at 3:00 PM. I have not drove past the accident scene but a friend said two daffodils sprouted (not planted) on the roadside bank early last week, on Friday there were three, as of last evening there were four. Amazing.

    Comment by Smucker — April 6, 2009 @ 7:57 am

  13. I wish the Amish (& others) understood that you CAN know you’re saved & going to Heaven. And that being saved by grace is the ONLY way there.

    Comment by Janet Nolt — April 6, 2009 @ 9:42 am

  14. Question;
    What and where and who are the MANY that Jesus was referring to, here in Matt 7?

    Matt 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    Wouldn’t these folks be SURE that they are ‘saved’ while in this life?
    Yet, in the end will hear the words, “Depart from me”…?

    It sounds like they will be rather in shock, on that day of judgment.
    “but….Lord Lord….have we not….”

    So wouldn’t there be MANY that are SURE…yet are going to be missing it?

    Comment by fritz — April 6, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

  15. The many that I believe this is talking about are the ones that believe in the idenity of Jesus but are not willing to follow his commandments. See first John 5.

    Comment by DLY — April 6, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

  16. If anyone knows where a trust fund or something has been set up for these families, please let us know. I’m sure they will feel overwhelmed with the bills that will be incurred. I know they’ll receive help from their community, but many of us would like to help as well, if possible.

    Ira’s response (from a reader’s email): As of now the account is not set up yet. With Amos Lee passing away on Sunday I am not sure if they still plan to open the account or not. My understanding was that they were going to open it on Saturday but apparently that did not happen.

    Comment by Bethrusso — April 7, 2009 @ 8:52 am

  17. What a beautifully written account of an equally tragic story! I grew up with only 1 brother, he being 5 years older than me, that I now realize spoiled me, looked out for me, and did things for me & with me that my friends’ brothers didn’t take time to do with them. My heart cries for the little 9 year old boy who will now miss out on so much!! What a comforting thought tho for the family to have the “angels in the clouds”! Praying that these families will be able to feel the tender care of our Saviour as He carries them through this valley…………

    Comment by HENRY — April 7, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  18. Thanks for the nice post, Ira.

    Comment by Hans Mast — April 7, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  19. There is so little we can say.
    So little we can do.
    When God has called a loved one home.
    Who means so much to you.
    When smiling eyes are closed in sleep.
    According to God’s Will.
    And that dear voice you loved to hear.
    Has suddenly grown still.
    But there are those who think of you.
    And those who always care.
    And stop to say a prayer about.
    The burden you must bear.
    And so this gentle message is.
    Sincerely meant to be.
    A prayerful thought of fond regard.
    And heartfelt sympathy

    Comment by Daniel Shirk — April 10, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

  20. Fritz, read 1 John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God!

    Comment by Gideon Y — April 10, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

  21. These boys came from very dear and loving families. Parents who loved their kids. The lost (boys) contributed so much to the community through their hard work ethic and so much more. They were dear sons that their parents adored as I do my sons. They were treasured by so many of their friends and family. They will be missed terribly!!! Some Amish believe you’ll get to heaven through works and other Amish believe in being born again, as I do, to enter the kingdom of heaven. I choose to believe these dear boys heard the salvation message at a very young age as the Amish parents see a huge importance in reading Bible stories to their young. God bless all the loved ones and friends who grieve. Our love goes out to them and to all who lost loved ones. Be comforted in knowing God cares about your pain.


    Comment by Mr. King — April 11, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

  22. Thanks, Mr. King, though I don’t know them. Why would angels be sent to comfort a family who does not know God? Think about it.

    Comment by Rachel — April 13, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

  23. The description of the MANY that are on the broadroad [doing many wonderful works in His name; casting out devils in His name; prophesying in His name] would fit the bulk of Christianity.

    Yet, there is not one person, that i know of, that is professing, that would say, ‘that is me’.

    The huge majority would lay claim to the certainty of their salvation.
    There would be quite a variety of scriptures used to back up this claim.

    So, wouldn’t it be true that a whole lot of those that are CERTAIN that they are His, are going to be in for a shock on ‘that day’?

    Is it not written that He, Himself, would send a STRONG delusion to mankind if they had no genuine LOVE for TRUTH?
    DId not Paul warn about ‘another Jesus’?
    Is it possible that this ‘other Jesus’ is the one that the MANY on the broadroad have their faith/belief/trust in?

    Is there anything that could be a STRONGER delusion, than by making use of the very scriptures themselves?

    Just consider the great diversity, conflicting and confusing doctrines that Christianity is founded upon!
    ALL….supposedly…based upon the scriptures.
    Causing all kinds of division/hatred/pride/judgementalism just to name a few.

    Just one ex.
    Those that believe in eternal security think those not believing such a doctrine are in err. They would feel that THEY know the TRUTH about the matter.
    Those not believing it, think those believing it are believing false doctrine. They would believe that THEY know the truth of the matter.
    BOTH….are basing what they believe on the scriptures.

    And, i know, we are living in the day and age of ‘go to the church of your choice…but go’.

    Everyone convinced that THEY are right…that their way of ‘dividing/interpreting’ the scriptures is the correct one…best one.

    How can it be?

    Is there any question that something is drastically wrong?

    The letter of 1st John…was never written to those on the broadroad, was it?
    Yet, would they not be laying claim to it, just as well as folks that would be genuine?

    Comment by fritz — April 29, 2009 @ 11:18 pm

  24. Fritz, I cannot agree more about the how frustrating is the “division/hatred/pride/judgementalism” caused by the “conflicting and confusing doctrines” held by different groups of Christians. But surely it cannot be that only one of these groups will be saved while all the others condemned? What follows is that the theological disputes don’t matter as much as if one really loves one’s enemies as well as one’s neighbors as oneself. Even the latter command is hard enough to keep, for sure…Can it be that the Many mentioned in the Bible fail to be “known” by Christ because they failed to make their hearts like His, but only invoking His name? Crusades were conducted in His name, heretics burned in His name, the Amish among other differing groups persecuted and massacred in His name! Too many, because a too great zeal in their doctrines and not as much love for their enemies, do all sorts of things in His name but would not be known by him because the things they do are alien to the nature of Christ. How can anyone be 100% sure that their sophisticated doctrines are the right ones? But the commandments of Love is given without any ambiguity, and is meant to sum up all the other commandments — who can doubt or condemn that?

    Comment by Lily — November 22, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

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