Justo Smoker: What we know about the man who kidnapped Linda Stoltzfoos

Since posting my blog 34-year-old Justo Smoker Charged in Linda Stoltzfoos Kidnapping, people have been sending me snippets of Justo’s backstory. It is normal for people to try and make sense of the why and how of tragedies such as this one. Even more so, I believe, when the victim of such a crime is part of a group such as the Amish or Mennonite. Certainly there are dysfunctions among them and there is abuse, as there is in every people group, but their strong stand on non-resistance and limited social interactions with ‘the world’ make them an unlikely target. When such violence as a kidnapping (Linda Stoltzfoos, Amish girl kidnapped, Lancaster PA, 2020), rape (Amish woman raped in Marshall County IN, 2019) or murder (Nationwide Fellowship woman, Sasha Krause Farmington NM, murdered, 2020) does happen, the shock waves ripple throughout the community, and through the public.

In the face of trauma, humans seek answers. These crimes don’t align with we believe about most humans, and to feel safe and to believe again that our children and community are safe, we try to unscramble the story so we understand ‘the why’. How can someone go so very wrong? And why choose someone in a culture that is non-resistant and keeps more or less to themselves? Why Linda? Why Sasha? Why an Amish woman at home with a 2-year-old?

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 1.11.53 PM

I do not usually write much about offenders or their stories. In part this is because I don’t usually have enough connections to find the backstory. And in part because I hesitate to place them in the spotlight. Perverse as it sounds, that is what some want, and they get some thrill out of the attention and publicity.

In this case people who have connections to the family and situation sent me a considerable amount of information. (Much of this is via screen shots, and even copied-pasted from their conversations with people close to Justo. So I do not have links to offer). Information that will put some rumours to rest. One of the questions that has been asked is, “His name is Amish. Does he have Amish background?” and some are saying he has Amish roots. This is not accurate. To the best of my ability, with the information I have been sent, I will offer a brief overview.

Justo was on the streets of Dominican Republic, at age 7, when his parents, Vernon and Deb Smoker, adopted him into a (not conservative) Mennonite home. (They were not any form of  Amish or conservative Mennonite at any point in Justo’s life, I am told, and their church changed its name in recent years to a community church, however they remain part of a Mennonite governing body). Through Justo’s adoptive grandparents, there is Amish background, hence the ‘Smoker’ name, but even his grandparents were Lancaster Conference all their married lives, never Amish. (One individual wrote that one grandparent was born into an Amish home, but left the Amish early on).

In 2007, at age 21, Justo was sentenced to 12 1/2 to 30 years in prison for a series of robberies with a BB gun. His adoptive parents were present at the hearing and one stated that Justo had been trouble since they adopted him. They also said they will offer him support in prison as well as upon his release. The judge gave him a lesser sentence than the case warranted in hopes of giving justo another chance at life. Justo acknowledged that his parents had taught him better than what he had done, and apologized for the pain and suffering he had caused.

Since being released from prison, according to one source, Justo is said to have had money problems and was working many extra hours and taking shifts as a result. The nature of the money trouble was not mentioned.

Regarding the charges against Justo Smoker in relation to the disappearance of Linda Stotlzfoos, a link I found to give specific and helpful information is the Affidavit of Probable Cause for Justo Smoker, found on Scribd. Another report on the Lancaster County, PA News and Breaking News FB page, though a bit less clear, also offers some insights.

The unknowns are troubling for all who have followed this tragic case. At a distance, and being in/from another country, at times it makes me feel physically ill. I cannot imagine what ‘her people’ are going through. The details of her bra and socks being found (addressed in the Affidavit of Probable Cause) buried 6-8 inches, makes the heart and mind sick with sorrow, wondering what horror she endured, or perhaps is still enduring. It is almost too much for the mind. Still, in the unknowns, I pray that God will bring her back home, safely. Tonight I prayed that, if she is still alive, that God would help her escape. I almost cannot bear to think of what terror she has faced.

Continue to pray for her. Stories of miraculous escapes and survival exist. I pray she is one of those.

Pray for the Amish and surrounding community where this horrific crime was committed. Reports of deep struggle and anxiety are emerging, which is no surprise, as we would feel the same way if we were in their shoes. And pray for Justo’s parents, family and loved ones. It is impossible to imagine what they are going through. My heart goes out to them all with much love and prayers.

 

*****

On a ministry front, doors have opened to translate Between 2 Gods to Plautdeutsch (aka Low German or Plattdeutsch). Translating my memoir to my mother tongue has been a dream and a passion of mine since before I published my memoir. Now that we have a translator, we have set up a GoFundMe to help cover the costs, as translating, editing and then creating an audio, is a time-consuming and costly process. (That said, the rates being charged are more than reasonable at under $13 per hour, for which we are very grateful!).  US friends reported having trouble with the Canadian GoFundMe account, depending on payment method, so we have created a Canadian and US account.

GOFUNDME (Canada): Translate Between 2 Gods to Plautdeutsch (Low German)

GOFUNDME USA: Translate Between 2 Gods to Low German

If you wish to give but prefer PayPal to GoFundMe, you May donate via: trudy.metzger@rogers.com.

I know many of my readers/friends care deeply for the Mennonite community, and the Old Colony and other Plautdeutsch communities in particular. Please pray for them and for this project. And if you are able to contribute, your support would be much appreciated. Tackling the problem of sexual abuse is a difficult but necessary one. And in our Low German culture, little is available to support those who do not speak or write the English language. For those who cannot read English or Plautdeutsch, we are planning to release a Plautdeutsch audio version of Between 2 Gods.

Thank you for your support.

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2020

 

Update: Anabaptist church in the Bronx & an invitation to a day of prayer and fasting, April 3

Each day I look forward to updates from Rich about what their church has been up to. It isn’t possible for me to do what they are doing, though I would long to do so, so for now I do the part I can: pray, share their updates, and contribute financially. A week ago I didn’t know he and Sandy are pastoring a church, and knew nothing about their church, and now  they have left a ‘heart print’ on my life, and many of you. Following is his update:

***A few disclaimers to our friends and acquaintances. As I read through your kind, thoughtful comments from last night’s post and noticed that many friends shared the post, I got a bit uneasy. I mean, our family and close friends and church know that my breath stinks if I don’t brush my teeth or take a breath mint, and I can blow up a bathroom with the best of them. Another way to put this? We are just ordinary people serving an extraordinary God. Some of you seem to have been preparing nominations for sainthood for Rich and Sandy. Please don’t waste your postage. We are ordinary people serving an extraordinary God. We really do appreciate your prayers! Seriously.

This global, national, and local crisis is serious, despite those who think it is just a vast left-wing conspiracy to unseat the powers that be. Political hacks exist in every party and in every community, but this is more serious than any political hack. I am suggesting to our church group and to any other believers out there who are interested, please consider making Friday, April 3rd, a Day of Prayer and Fasting.

II Chronicles 7:12-14 is very relevant for such a time as this. “When I…send a pestilence…if my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The people of God will always make the right choice when we humble ourselves, and pray and seek the face of God, and repent of anything we need to repent of. Fasting provides us a chance to identify more closely with the suffering that others are facing, and to direct ourselves away from our food [and other] addictions and towards God.

2 Chronicles 7:14

I am hesitant to mention names of people to pray for in this public forum, but if you are interested in a list of prayer requests email us at uwriterich@gmail.com

Friends have been asking how to give to us as we help here. We have a church PayPal account, bjcgive@gmail.com. The church received $880 in the past two days from friends interested in helping us as we help our community. If you want to give now, we will designate it for ministry for EMS workers, ER workers, and other persons affected by this crisis. We have a friend who lost his job, a friend whose business is struggling, and the friend on the ventilator we mentioned last night has some financial difficulties. Brianna said that we ought to see if we could start a fund to help people who are out of a job who can’t pay their rent. I think that’s a great idea. Unfortunately, this struggle is going to hit many parts of the US and world. We are in the middle of it right here in NYC, but there are places around the US and around the world that are soon going to be in the middle of it, either with the medical crisis or the economic crisis, and probably both. If you would rather give directly to us as a family you could PM us and we could send you our mailing or PayPal address.

We are hoping to recruit some help to take another set of sandwiches to the Jacobi Medical Center this Friday. I already asked Orville, our Christian friend on Boston Road whose restaurant is slow, if we can order our sandwiches from him. And he agreed to pay another friend who lost his job to come in and help him prepare the sandwiches. It’s probably not “trickle-down economy” for those who know the term. Maybe we’ll call it “Living Waterfalls” economy.

Brendan Weaver here at Believers in Jesus Church spearheaded some food distribution and prayer today, and sent an update to us, which I include below:

**Our church provided lunch for the EMS Station nearest us today. We provided food for 35 people including platters of sub sandwiches and a cookie platter from Subway, single-serving chip bags and drinks from Aldi. Suzie is the little Asian lady at Subway that I have worked with over the past two days for the food orders. I had explained our mission to her yesterday and today she seemed delighted to see me and was eager to help figure out exactly how much food would be need. Both days she went the extra mile to give discounts. Today as I was leaving, I bid her farewell with a “God bless.” Her response was, “No, God bless you.”

At the EMS Station it was a bit confusing to find the main entrance so I approach a running ambulance with a crew sitting in the front and explained my reason for being there. They directed me to the front door then they went inside to get help to carry the food. Probably 6 or 8 EMTs and Paramedics came out to help carry in the bags. They were all enthusiastic with their appreciation and thanks including cries of “God is good.” They asked me to come into the station where I met the desk lieutenant and EMT Guzman, who was my contact from yesterday. All were very grateful and appreciative that the church would reach out in this way. The lieutenant said about 50% of their staff is out sick and their call volume is higher than normal, but they are doing okay because they have received mutual aid support in the form of EMTs and paramedics from other states to help staff their ambulances. I spoke with them for a few minutes and then asked if it would be okay if we prayed together. They agreed and the group of 6-8 of us in the room had prayer together asking for God’s protection on them and our city. I explained that many churches are reaching out from across the USA wanting to know how to help and that they please let us know if they could think of any other way beyond food and prayer that we could be of assistance. I also made sure to attach prayer cards from Stan & Sharon to each platter of sandwiches and cookies and also gave them a stack of prayer cards. As I was leaving, they were sending out a message on their radio that the food had arrived. One thing is sure, the gift was appreciated and FDNY EMS Station 20 was blessed today.**

Ecc 11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
1 Cor 3:7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

If you can join us, let’s make Friday, April 3rd, a Day of Prayer and Fasting.

Rich***

*****

About a week or two into the realization that there is a serious pandemic on our hands, and it isn’t only media hype, I found the photo (above), added 2 Chronicles 7:14, and made it my Facebook profile pic. At the time I had forgotten that the verses prior talk about God sending a pestilence, followed by this call to repentance. A pestilence is a fatal epidemic disease. It wasn’t until Rich wrote about it that this detail came back to me.

For many months, even years. there have been prophetic voices speaking into this, warning the people of God to repent, to turn back to His ways, or there will be consequences. From worshipping materialism, to holding our own beliefs as ‘salvation’ — or our good name — to disregarding Amos 5, where God makes it clear that He is sick of ‘worship’ when justice and mercy have lost their place, we need to repent and turn our hearts back to Him. If you want to know what is important to God, read Amos 5:

A Lament and Call to Repentance
Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you:
“Fallen is Virgin Israel,
never to rise again,
deserted in her own land,
with no one to lift her up.”
This is what the Sovereign Lordsays to Israel:
“Your city that marches out a thousand strong
will have only a hundred left;
your town that marches out a hundred strong
will have only ten left.”
This is what the Lord says to Israel:

“Seek me and live;
    do not seek Bethel (a holy place).
do not go to Gilgal (Joshua 4:20 – an alter),
do not journey to Beersheba (God’s promises, Genesis 26:23–33).
For Gilgal (the alter) will surely go into exile,
and Bethel (the holy place) will be reduced to nothing.[a]
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them,
and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
There are those who turn justice into bitterness
and cast righteousness to the ground
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns midnight into dawn
and darkens day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out over the face of the land—
the Lord is his name.
With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold
and brings the fortified city to ruin.
10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.
11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.
16 Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says:
“There will be wailing in all the streets
and cries of anguish in every public square.
The farmers will be summoned to weep
and the mourners to wail.
17 There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord.
The Day of the Lord
18 Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
21 I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!
25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus (a well-watered land),”
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.
    Says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

 

Do I think God is ‘sending’ the current epidemic?  No. Not at all. Disease is the result of our sin and fallenness. And when we cut God out, or turn from Him to idolatry, there are consequences. And idolatry is giving our primary allegiance and focus to anything other than God. It is exalting any other thing to the place reserved for Jesus, for God. Whether a physical idol, a belief system, or any other thing that I hold as part of my salvation or give my love and allegiance, we have a definite problem with idolatry in churches today. And God has stepped back. He has not abandoned us, but He has not prevented the consequences of sin from doing great harm. It is up to us to humble ourselves and cry out to Him.

I have written about it before, and it bears repeating. God calls believers to repent for the healing of the nation. I invite you to join in, Friday April 3, to fast and pray for our nation, to repent of what you need to repent of, and to stand in the gap for all impacted by this terrible devastation.

 

As always,

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2020

 

Update: Anabaptist Church’s ministry moves Bronx nurse to tears

Last evening Rich shared an update that left me in tears. It is so beautiful, the doors God opens, and how the care of His children gives the weary frontline workers a safe place:

***Quick report on today’s opportunities to deliver Subway/ DD/deli sandwiches, sodas, box of Joe (DD) and box of hot chocolate to the ER workers at Jacobi Medical Center. Our contact, the director of communications at Jacobi, asked us to meet her at the ambulatory entrance to the trauma center, so we pulled up there and offloaded our food and drinks, enough for about 60 people. Our friends Stan and Sharon from our church made these cool little cards with verses on one side and “If you need prayer” contact information on the back and we taped the cards on the sandwich wrappers. Sandy prayed with our hospital friend who received the food with gratefulness. She said that her father has just been admitted to the hospital this morning, and she talked about the stresses of this time at the hospital. She also took a small packet of masks that our friend Sharon had sewn and told Sandy that they could definitely use these masks for patients and other people who come to the ER.

Our friend Brendan from our church got the Subway sandwiches, so it was a neat team effort. Our daughter Bri was closing down the Eastchester Dunkin’ Donuts this afternoon because the owner (he has seven Dunkin’ Donuts) needs to consolidate his dwindling work force. So the owner told Bri to give the doughnuts and bagels to her parents to give to the hospital. Sandy returned that afternoon to DD to pick up those items and she spoke with a police officer in line. She had the opportunity to speak with that police officer and pray with him, and he recommended that she take the free doughnuts to the EMS station. Sandy thought to herself that this is what she loves to do, pray for people.  She took the doughnuts and bagels and headed off to where she thought was the local EMS station, but the GPS took her back to Jacobi. So there she was at the Jacobi Medical Center. Sandy sat in the car and prayed about what to do. She saw an ambulance pull up and decided to go up and offer the food to the paramedics. A male nurse came up behind her from getting out of his car and said “May I help you?” She said “I just came to encourage you today.” He lifted his glasses to look at her and told her “I had to step away from the madness for a little while and take a break.” The man started to cry and Sandy asked if she can pray for him. She stood there, praying for this big male nurse, with tears running down his cheeks. The man told her that he and his coworkers had just stepped outside earlier that afternoon and held hands and prayed, because there is so much stress. Here is this big guy, broken up and crying, telling her “I just had to step away from it for a while.”

Brianna has two coworkers who have each lost family members to COVID-19 in the past week. One of her co-workers lost her Grandpa, and they couldn’t even go to visit him while he was in the hospital. Another of her co-workers lost her Uncle. The co-worker who lost her Grandpa is now at home, sick.

Our friend up the block on Corsa Avenue is perhaps a few years older than us, and she has been hospitalized since Friday with COVID-19. Today they had to put her on the ventilator, which seems kind of like her health is headed in the wrong direction. Please pray for our friends and neighbors around here, and pray for us. The “news” out there gets more real when it is the news right here in our community.

Rich ***

Today they planned to serve the local EMS.

Again, if you would like to financially support the costs of this ministry,  the following email is the church’s PayPal: bjcgive@gmail.com

******

One medical professional, I am told by a friend, had to wrap over a dozen dead bodies in black plastic yesterday, March 31, 2020. Unless we are them, we cannot possibly imagine being responsible for that task. The strain of this, knowing that with each infected body they are exposing themselves to this virus, and with that exposure they risk infecting their families at home, is almost too much for some. Yet they press on, knowing they, too, could be that body. You don’t work that closely with death and not feel your own mortality. It is no small wonder that a medical professional would be reduced to tears when a kind strangers shows up to care and pray.

It is my hope that hearing these inspiring stories will give more believers the courage to be bold in love, practical service and prayer in this COVID-19 crisis. We live with pre-conceived notions about the people around us. A big tough nurse, on the outside, does not show us a tender soul on the inside, taxed to the endth degree by present circumstances. To be surrounded by thousands dead and dying in your city and hospital, as these healthcare professionals are in New York, would be most difficult. Not only is there sickness and death, there is the awareness that loved ones are being torn apart in their time of suffering.  That is a form of suffering all its own; one these healthcare providers are obligated to enforce. One we do well to be aware of, to pray for the healthcare providers, all frontline workers, the sick and dying, and to support those in our lives who are isolated in ways that wear down the mind and body.

I think of my brother fighting a hard battle with cancer. He has been courageous, as has his wife. We, as family, have tried to visit regularly — with some able to go more frequently than others — and cook for them. Now they are isolated, going through this battle without the physical presence of friends and loved ones. I hear her voice, the loneliness and heaviness of the journey, and ache for them.

These are difficult times for many. I am more introvert than extrovert — ambivert would be most accurate — and adjust easily to being home, or being alone, though I do miss friends from time to time, and especially miss seeing our children and grandchildren. For many this is depressing and lonely. For those in abuse situations, this is a terrifying time. As someone who grew up in violence, I remember well how times of stress and financial hardship escalated violence and death threats. For those spouses and children, this isolation is a most hellish thing.

In some way most of us, or all of us, have been impacted, in big or small ways, and for many this increases the risk of depression and suicide. As believers in Jesus, we have love and hope to offer, even if only by extending a listening ear.

For this reason the churches who insist on meeting, rather than allowing themselves to be ‘scattered to serve’, boggle my mind. Whatever the motive — whether to prove they can do their thing, or to keep the money rolling in, or whatever else might be their motives — it does nothing to convince the world of love. Absolutely nothing. It is selfish.

If we would all lay aside our temporary losses and call one another to love, prayer and kind deeds, would we not exemplify the love of Jesus beautifully? This is what drew me to the little Anabaptist church in NYC. They are heroes. They are human. They are not seeking to be noticed or idolized. (So please don’t). But they are living the love of Jesus well. They are preaching with their hands and their feet, and encouraging through prayer. They inspire me… make me ask, “What can I do to show His love?”

And amid the pressure of completing this term of university, I’m trying to find little ways of making a difference.  In the weeks and months ahead, we will have opportunity to serve our fellow mankind,  to rise up like we never have before, to carry the burden of the inevitable cost and consequences resulting from this tragic time. We need to prepare our hearts today for this call, and the doors God will open for us to take His love into the world around us.

To have one foot firmly planted in the present reality — so we can be present and supportive, and the other firmly rooted in eternity, with a heart invested in Jesus and people, this is my desire and my commitment.

My prayer for you, for me, for us today is quite simple, “Jesus, hold your children tonight. The lost ones. The found ones. The struggling ones. The secure ones. We invite you to be present in our stories, in every part. Help us, who know you, to be mindful of those in need around us… to lean in and listen to the fears around us and offer love and compassion… to hear the hearts that feel lost and alone, and offer encouragement. Help us to represent you well. Always. And in all ways. Thank you for loving us in our brokenness. Now, help us love others in their brokenness too. Amen.”

NOTE: If you have a good news story you would like me to share in the midst of the tragedy of COVID-19 , send it to my personal email. There will be no shortage or tragedy in coming days, and that tragedy needs to be acknowledged. But we also need to hear encouraging stories, and see humans coming together to support one another, and blessing those who are in the front lines.

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2020