Cold Case Is Cold Hearted Toward Amish

One year to the week after the October 2, 2006 slaughter of five Amish girls by a crazed gunman, CBS's Cold Case aired an episode in which an Amish teenager is murdered.

The murderer turns out to be a drug-addled Amish youth angry about being shunned by his community – so Cold Case manages to place the blame on the Amish themselves.

Cold Case's October 7 episode featured Anna Granden, an Amish teenager who left her community to experience life in Philadelphia and decide whether to live according to Amish ways.  Anna says to her friend Rachel, who was reluctant to embrace the freedom Philadelphia offers, “It's hard to figure out who are when you're just following rules.” 

It's the “oppressive nature” of Amish society that causes Anna's murder.

No, it's not an angry Amish parent or adult who is angry that Anna wants to leave the community.  It's Jacob, a friend of Anna's and an angry Amish teenager, shunned for his wild behavior, who desperately wants to go back to his family. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol he can't fathom why Anna wouldn't return, and he kills her during an argument.

Jacob is portrayed sympathetically, as a victim of drug addiction who just can't help himself.  If anyone's at fault in this tragedy, it's the Amish for not knowing how to handle addiction and simply writing the young man off as lost.  Cold Case illustrates Amish harshness – at least as they imagine it – during a scene in which Jacob was ignored by Anna's mother:

            Jacob: Mrs. Granden?

            Mrs. Granden: Jacob. 

Jacob: Do my parents know that you're here?  Did they send you? Maybe they were worried or something.   My mom, maybe?

Anna: Mom, he's talking to you.

Mrs. Granden: Jacob Beechie is in bond.  We are forbidden to talk to him. 

Jacob: Goodbye Mrs. Granden.  Tell my folks I miss them, okay?

Mrs. Granden's stony silence was a stark contrast to the pleading tone of Jacob's voice, portraying her, and the Amish, as cold, judgmental people who ignore the needs of those in trouble.  

When detectives inquire about the circumstances surrounding Anna's death, Mrs. Grunden replies “whatever happened to my daughter was God's will.  It's not our place to interfere,” reinforcing the image of the Amish as an unfeeling community. 

The plot gave the writers, using the show's Philadelphia homicide detectives, ample opportunity to criticize the oppressive nature of Amish beliefs and on Christians in general.  One detective says Jacob “wouldn't be the first Christian to kill.” Cold Case is establishing a pattern of portraying any believer in traditional values as dark and sinister.

Why did CBS choose to run this episode on this of all weeks, five days after the one year anniversary of the schoolhouse tragedy in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania?  Sure, it's a tie-in that may enhance the network's ratings, but it does nothing to enhance anyone's opinion of the producers. 

Did they really have no qualms about exploiting a tragedy for their own gain? 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant with the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter