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As beard-cutting prison terms loom, Ohio Amish community comes together one last time

Scott R. Galvin / AP

Amish women fill-up the school house to listen to their children sing during the final day of class before the end of the school year on April 9, 2013 in Bergholz, Ohio.

Bergholz, Ohio — The Amish schoolhouse quiets as students in first through eighth grades settle into tight rows of scuffed metal desks to begin singing, their voices rising and dipping like the surrounding hills.

A warm breeze carries the religious lyrics, in German, through the room's open windows and over the fields where their families will mingle after this ceremony marking the school year's end. Typically all this happens in late April, but the festivities have been moved up to allow some youngsters a few more days of family time before their parents head to federal prison.

Come Friday, four women and one man from this tight-knit group in rural eastern Ohio will enter the prison system in various states, joining nine already behind bars on hate crimes convictions for hair- and beard-cutting attacks against fellow Amish.

Scott R. Galvin / AP

Girls play softball during an end of the school year celebration. The celebration was also part of a farewell picnic for those sentenced in the hair and beard cutting scandal earlier in the year.

Scott R. Galvin / AP

Freeman Burkholder crosses home plate during a game of baseball at the farewell picnic. Burkholder was sentenced to prison for his part in the hair and beard cutting scandal.

With that timing, the end-of-school celebration Tuesday served as the last big community gathering before the five depart, and they gave The Associated Press a rare window into their largely insular world. Men played baseball in buttoned shirts, work boots and blue pants with suspenders. Their wives, some barefoot, sat on simple wooden benches and chatted, their long-sleeved, blue and green dresses and white head scarves fluttering in the wind. Their children relaxed nearby, dressed like smaller versions of their parents.

"It's a happy day on the outside, but not on the inside. On the inside, a lot of times we're crying, but we have to keep our spirits up for the children's sake," said Martha Mullet, whose husband, Sam Mullet Sr., was accused of orchestrating the hair-cutting attacks. Read the full story

Scott R. Galvin / AP

Boys watch the baseball game.

Scott R. Galvin / AP

Emma Miller holds her daughter during the farewell celebration, which was held for Miller and other community members leaving for prison soon.

Scott R. Galvin / AP

Boys walk to the school house for their final day of class.

Scott R. Galvin / AP

Men sit in the school house to listen to their children sing.