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The Daily Democrat is taking its annual look at the year's top stories, as chosen by employees of the newspaper. This year, we've decided to stretch out the usual Top 10 to a Top 12 — or 12 in '12.
The Adams County sheriff’s and Berne police departments in mid-September collaborated to quickly arrest four suspects in attacks on members of the Amish community in the Berne area. The story was voted as the Number 7 story of the year by employees of the Daily Democrat.
David Veliz, 19, and Alejandro Lopez, 18, both of Fort Wayne, and Brady Rodriguez, 17, who is a minor but was remanded to adult court, all face one count of armed robbery, three counts of attempted armed robbery, three counts of criminal confinement, and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Michelle Rodriguez, mother of Brady Rodriguez, of Berne, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery in connection with the assaults.
Adams County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Harvey said it is believed that on Sept. 16, Michelle Rodriguez was preparing to move to Fort Wayne and told her son, Brady, along with Veliz and Lopez, that she needed money to complete the move and to purchase drugs.
Rodriguez reportedly instructed the teens to rob members of the Amish community for the money. The teens allegedly left in a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx and drove the vehicle to a rural area of Berne, where authorities say they pulled in front of Amish buggies, blocking the buggys' paths and forcing the drivers to stop.
The teens then reportedly approached the buggies wearing gas masks and carrying baseball bats, demanded money from the occupants and, in at least one instance, used the bat to strike a minor riding in a buggy.
During the course of the investigation, the sheriff’s department received a description of the vehicle, and on Sept. 18, Berne police went to the home of Rodriquez and discovered the vehicle, which was later identified by all four robbery victims as the one used in the attacks.
Adams County Sheriff’s Detective Lieutenant Gary Burkhart reported that a second victim stated that the vehicle approached from behind, then passed and stopped abruptly in front of their horse-drawn buggy. The driver of the buggy, which was occupied by a woman and three small children, was unable to avoid a collision and struck the back passenger side of the vehicle. The driver of the buggy reported the rear passenger door opened upon impact and never closed as the vehicle drove away, according to court documents.
Another victim had told authorities that a vehicle passed his buggy, then abruptly came to a stop. The driver of the buggy said he attempted to go around the vehicle, but as he did the driver of the vehicle began to move in front of the him, trying to force him to stop.The victim said two men jumped out of the vehicle, wearing masks over their faces and carrying baseball bats.
The victim then turned the buggy around and fled in the opposite direction, turned into a driveway and drove the buggy to the back of the house, where the occupant let him into her home. While he was fleeing, the victim said, the two young men chased the buggy down the road.
Another victim reported that a vehicle passed the buggy she was driving, then “blocked the road” in front of her. The victim said two men, one carrying a baseball bat, got out of the vehicle and demanded money. The victim refused and attempted to drive past the two masked men and as she passed, the suspect with the bat swung the bat striking her on the right upper leg, according to the report.
The victim also stated that as she reached the vehicle, the driver got out of the car and demanded money. She gave the driver what money she had but was unsure of the amount.
Police reported that Veliz said that he, Lopez and Brady Rodriguez all left the Rodriguez home in the the vehicle in question, eventually going into the rural areas of Berne. Veliz said as he was driving the vehicle, it abruptly stopped for some unknown reason on a county road, at which time a buggy driven by woman with three small children rear-ended vehicle. Veliz said he asked the woman for directions back to Berne, which she provided, according to court records.
Burkhart reported that Lopez said Michelle Rodriguez told Brady Rodriguez, Lopez, and Veliz that they didn’t have any money, which they needed to get to Fort Wayne and to purchase cocaine. Lopez said Rodriguez told the three teens to “go rob the Amish” to get the money they needed for the move and drugs, according to the report.
Lopez said he believed the masks and baseball bats were still in the vehicle. While conducting a search of the vehicle on September 19, Burkhart reportedly recovered two gas masks from the vehicle.