Marissa Buck’s Second Email to Ervin Stutzman

On July 1, 2016, at 3:40 PM, Marissa Buck wrote:

To Ervin and the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention,

I appreciate you responding to me quickly and clarifying how the process for choosing an organization is being carried out, though I am sorry to say I am not at all reassured.

I am baffled by the fact that you think choosing members from the boards of VMC, EMU, and LMC means there is no conflict of interest. Gloria Lehman respects Duane very highly and chose to stop communicating with me and Lauren. She and the Elders told the congregation they fully support their pastors and believe they did everything right in this abuse case. If this is not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. Anyone who had/has a relationship with Luke, Duane, Loren, Clyde or others associated with these organizations has a conflict of interest. Even the Panel for Prevention of Sexual Abuse has a conflict of interest, as at least one member told us honestly that they respect and have friendships with Duane and Loren. Conflict of interest is why the Panel publicly stated that anyone experiencing abuse should go outside of the Mennonite church and to professionals – because the Mennonite world is extremely interconnected and victims of abuse are ignored or silenced for the sake of maintaining “harmonious” relationships and community.

I am not feeling any more reassured by the fact that P. Marshall Yoder, EMU’s legal counsel, is involved in your decision. I have no confidence that he would choose an organization that might uncover information that would incriminate EMU. His job is to protect EMU, not survivors of sexual abuse. I do not know who the “EMU leaders” were who first heard about Luke’s relationship with an “unnamed female,” but if the EMU board was involved, then Herman Bontrager has a conflict of interest. Was Herman in the room when Luke “confessed”?

I understand that there must be cooperation and buy-in from the three institutions in order to have a successful investigation. However, these institutions should be agreeing to an investigation by the organization the Panel chooses, no questions asked. If they are truly concerned about uncovering abuse and not about protecting themselves, they will agree with the Panel’s recommendation. If they are unwilling to be investigated by GRACE we should be worried about their motives and there should be consequences.

Ervin, I am having a hard time believing that you “want to do what is best…particularly for the sake of victims of sexual abuse anywhere in our church,” when I am telling you that what you are NOT doing what is best for Lauren. Your words do not match your actions. Many people including survivors of abuse are watching this process and can see that you are not involving or informing Lauren and that you are giving decision-making power to people with conflicts of interest. Cutting Lauren out of the decision-making process is not doing what is best for victims. You should be doing everything in your power to protect, support, and include her. It’s clear that you believe you are making the right decisions and that you do not plan to communicate with Lauren through her advocate.

I will decline your invitation to meet in person. You should realize that it is inappropriate for you to offer to meet with us personally when Lauren has continually made it clear that people who want to contact her should do so through her advocate. There is far too much of a power imbalance for us to meet with you without an advocate present. This is basic ethics. At this time, even if you were to agree to have an advocate present, I do not trust you and would prefer to communicate by email.

Ervin, even if your intentions were good, it does not appear that way to those watching you. You are losing people’s trust and failing to show Lauren and other victims that you support them.

Panel, I am extremely uncomfortable and feel that this process lacks integrity and is compromised by conflicts of interest (and for other reasons which I have not covered in this email but would be happy to discuss with you). I ask that you stand firm and demand that GRACE do this investigation. You should expect to be given power in this decision and Ervin’s full support and cooperation. I would love to hear from you as individuals and understand your thought process during this – silence has been Lauren and my family’s worst enemy. Feel free to email me privately.

Thank you,

Marissa Buck

Marissa Buck’s First Email to Ervin Stutzman

—–Original Message—–

From: Marissa Buck Sent: Friday, June 24, 2016 8:43 PM

To: Ervin Stutzman; Anna Groff; Carlos Romero

Cc: Regina Shands Stolzfus ; Ross Erb ; Nancy Kauffmann; David B Miller; Jennifer Castro; Barbra Graber

Subject: Concern

Ervin Stutzman and others to whom it may concern,

I am writing to tell you that I am uncomfortable with the current process, as I understand it, that is in place for choosing an investigative organization to work with LMC, EMU, and VMC on the “Luke Hartman case.” Although Anna Groff from the Panel is involved, I find it alarming that the institutions that will be investigated are helping choose who will investigate them. This is a huge conflict of interest. Honestly, I believe it is a conflict of interest for you, Ervin, and for Carlos Romero to be involved in selecting the investigating agency as well. You have/had strong connections to Luke, and if not to him, you do to the leaders of Lindale, EMU, and VMC who will be under scrutiny. Anna is the only person in your group without a conflict of interest which puts her in a difficult position should she have concerns about how or why decisions are being made.

After Lauren and I spoke out about the mishandling of abuse by LMC and EMU, no one – not ONE leader from LMC, EMU, VMC, or MCUSA – reached out to us to show concern, apologize, or tell us how they would deal with the information we shared. We heard nothing, we saw no action taken, and recieved no communication – we still haven’t. Then we find out that the entities who we “called-out” got together, backed up by MCUSA and MEA leadership, and made a plan. How am I supposed to trust you? Do you think that you have supported Lauren and made a safe space for her? You have not. On top of your silence, the tone of your press release on June 14th made me feel like you want us to be interrogated; “The agreement with the investigating organization will include the request to seek interviews with Luke Hartman, Lauren Shifflett, and the Benner family.” I don’t believe that was your intention, but reading that sentence hurt. It put MCUSA and the three entities on one side, and Luke, Lauren and my family on the other. My family and I are not on trial here.

I am frustrated that Lauren has not been involved in this process. She should have been present at the meetings where you have been discussing her abuse and how to proceed – she was the one who is suffering because of Luke’s abuse and because of how it is being handled. Lauren’s opinion should matter. She has no idea what you are talking about or deciding behind the scenes. If you are serious about making a safe place for survivors of abuse in the Mennonite Church, you need to understand that your silence, lack of action and communication will never accomplish that. You are failing Lauren.

I was alarmed again when I heard that you will not publicly share which organizations you are considering along with G.R.A.C.E. What is your reason? If you truly want to be transparent this information should be public and the fact that it is not makes me very suspicious of your motives. Whatever your reasons, Lauren should have access to this information – she was the victim here and not giving her this information and a voice in your decision (if she wants it) is blatantly not considering her in this process.

To the Panel for Prevention of Sexual Abuse, thank you. Thank you for your statement asking for an investigation. You have built up my trust by communicating, apologizing, and listening. I hope that you see why I am concerned about the process currently in place to choose an investigative organization and understand the danger of the conflict of interest. I support your original recommendation of G.R.A.C.E. – I have read about them and trust that they would be thorough and effective in education and preventing this kind of abuse from happening again. I would prefer that you as a panel, along with Lauren’s input, choose the organization. At the very least, Lauren, an advocate of her choice, and the entire panel should be involved in future discussions with LMC, EMU, and VMC.

Please know that I am not looking for apologies or caring words now – it would be hard for me to believe their sincerity at this point. Ervin, I want you to back up your words with actions. Hire G.R.A.C.E. Hold the Mennonite Church community accountable. Prevent abuse and when it does happen, stand with the victim. Contact Lauren through Barbra Graber and involve her in any future actions/decisions.

Thank you,

Marissa Buck

Marissa Buck’s Unpublished Interview with The Mennonite


In late July of 2016, The Mennonite sent interview questions to Lauren Shifflett and her sister Marissa Buck for the article Gordon Houser was preparing. Barbra Graber, Lauren’s advocate, was copied on the communication.

The article was published on August 8, 2016.

The bulk of Marissa’s interview was not included in the report and we feel her answers are central to understanding the perspective of the ones harmed in this case.

From Marissa Buck to Hannah Heinzekehr

July 28, 2016

Hi Hannah,

Here are our answers to your questions. Lauren and I were originally going to answer separately, but we feel so similarly, and Lauren is just plum worn out from dealing with this mess, that we’re sending these joint answers. You can quote it as being both of us, or as just being from me. Laur, let Hannah know if you would rather she just quote me. We will have a very strong response once the investigative group is announced, so don’t forget to come back to us once it is! [I don’t believe they did]

Wishing you well!


Hannah: When you published your initial blogs on Our Stories Untold, what kind of response did you receive from Virginia Mennonite Conference leaders, if any? 

Marissa: We did not receive any response from Virginia Mennonite Conference. No response from Clyde Kratz or any other member. I expected that they would reach out to ask clarifying questions about Duane’s actions and to tell us their plan for responding to Duane’s misconduct, but they did not. 

Hannah: What was the process for pulling together this new, formal complaint? 

Marissa: A community leader actually initiated the complaint. She and some others in the conference were uncomfortable that VMC did nothing after learning of Duane’s actions so she contacted us through Barbra and asked if submitting a formal complaint was something we wanted to be part of. We were so grateful! We were uncomfortable, too, but hadn’t known what to do. 

Hannah: Did you share the complaint with Lindale Mennonite Church leaders? 

Marissa: No. We had notified the Elders of Duane’s actions, our concerns, and asked them to remove Duane from leadership prior to our blog posts going up. Lindale leadership completely stopped communicating with us after that.  

Hannah: Have you received any response from Lindale Mennonite Church leaders regarding the allegations against Duane? 

Marissa: No. Lindale leadership stopped communicating with us after our posts went up and never addressed our concerns about Duane. I do not know if Dawn backed-up the information she had shared with us. It is apparent to us that they are standing behind Duane. 

Hannah: Patsy Seitz from VMC responded to you, citing the upcoming investigation as part of VMC’s process. What do you think about this response? 

Marissa: I am upset. Duane is in leadership at a church that I love dearly and I do not believe he is a safe person. He reportedly withheld information from EMU about Luke Hartman that put students at risk. He retraumatized my sister by disbelieving her and protecting Luke. And now we find out that VMC reportedly has a “sealed file” on him? I am worried about the people under Duane’s care now. Who knows how long the independent investigation will take (and whether it will truly be independent, since all of the institutions being investigated were given input into who would investigate them). VMC seems to be trying to pass on the responsibility of holding Duane accountable to someone else and anyone under Duane’s influence may be hurt in the meantime. If Patsy Seitz and VMC truly take this seriously then they should be protecting church members by doing their own investigation of Duane, NOW. And that sealed file needs to be opened! If Duane has been accused of misconduct in the past it is dangerous that the details of that misconduct be a secret. 

Hannah: What are you hoping for most from this investigation process? 

Marissa: I want the Mennonite Church to become a safe place.

I want Duane held accountable for protecting Luke and re-traumatizing Lauren and any other misconduct. I want EMU leadership held accountable for reportedly ignoring complaints of inappropriate behavior by Luke for years, [not just in Lauren’s case], which put innocent people at risk. I want the church’s response to abuse victims to change. No more silencing, ignoring, and disbelieving victims. No more blind “forgiveness” for sexual predators or the people that are protecting them. 

From Barbra Graber to Hannah Heinzekehr with Lauren and Marissa copied

July 28, 2016

Hi ya’all. So grateful to you Hannah for writing this article and including Lauren and Marissa’s voice. You are literally the ONLY ones in church leadership who are talking to them at present. (Correct me if I’m wrong M and L)

Since our time with the Panel in Harrisonburg we have had to elbow and plead and persist our way into being included in even the tiniest part of the process.

After a long thread of email communications Lauren succeeded in setting up an informal meeting with President of EMU, Loren Swartzentruber scheduled for July 25, after his term was up. On July 20 he backed out of it claiming he was ‘advised against it.’ Nancy and Anna from the Panel just yesterday finally agreed to talk with us.  

We (Lauren, Marissa, OSU, and SNAP as representative survivor networks) have been given no voice whatsoever in the review and decision of the outside investigator. Please report this. Without opportunity for any discussion or input we received notice that institutional leaders were meeting to plan the process, (Ervin and Carlos’s statement of June 14, 2016) and we were not included, even though we are the harmed party and the ones most central to the opening up of this case and its secrets.

If it cared about survivors at all, as it claims, the church would be eager for our expertise and input. We were pleased with the choice of GRACE by the Panel, but then what felt like an iron door of silence came down between the church leaders and those of us survivor advocates seeking representation and participation.

Please quote me any way you like– or not. I want this piece to be about the many others who have joined this outcry. 

Love to you all, sending you strength and the patience and persistence of my dog holding on for dear life to her chew toy!    

On Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 8:34 AM, Hannah wrote:

Hi Lauren, Marissa and Barbra,

Gordon is hard at work on the first draft of a story for Monday’s TMail about the panel process and I will edit and add to it soon. I’ve been following all of the social media action (we’re planning to quote from your Google note, Marissa) and also heard about the behind the scenes conversation with DSA. Has DSA responded to you? Do you know if you are planning to endorse them? If you could let us know when you have a decision, I’d like to report what YOU think about the group.

Thank you,

Hannah Heinzekehr

On Fri August 5, 2016 Barbra Graber wrote:

Thanks Hannah. Quick answer. I’ve not been able to reach Lauren or Marissa this morning. This could be a quote from me. Marissa and Lauren are also welcome to send you quotes or choose any of this to say for themselves in your article if they like. 

The unwavering request of Lauren and Marissa in a variety of forms to numerous church leaders continues to be:

Trust the Panel’s original and carefully considered recommendation of GRACE and move forward. If you don’t use GRACE then its back to the drawing board, this time with our full involvement and participation.

So, no, we are not planning to endorse a firm Lauren and Marissa and the Benners had no part in choosing. We cannot quickly rubber stamp a firm the Panel (except for Anna, who was not even allowed to take information back to her Panel) had no part in choosing, nor OSU and SNAP, both well established groups of Mennonite survivors have had any part in choosing. We will not offer a quick opinion at this late hour after having been completely barred from a long and complex process.

Do they expect us to quick scramble around to attempt to do our own research and then produce an opinion after they’ve refused to share their own research and details with us? Why didn’t they take the advice of those they appointed to prevent sexual abuse in our church in the first place? You can’t just take away from the Panel the task you gave them and then expect all those you have barred from the process to jump on board with you. Trust has been broken repeatedly and until it is rebuilt through actions that support our cause, decisions made without us are highly suspect.

We will continue to assess whether or not this inquiry protects at all costs the needs and wishes of survivors, in particular Lauren Shifflet and her family. We will assess whether it merits our participation, our time and our attention. We will under no circumstances reveal the identities of the victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers that have come forward to us concerning this case without their full permission. 

Read Marissa’s FB post #LetSurvivorsLead for the latest. 

Correspondence Between Barbra Graber and Gordon Houser

From: Barbra Graber

Sent: Friday, August 5, 2016 11:07 AM

To: Gordon Houser

Subject: !! Please add this to article?

 Forgot to include you in the first one, Gordon and I see Hannah is away!  Very important that we try to get this word out and would appreciate your helping us out if you can…:

We will continue to assess whether or not this inquiry protects at all costs the safety, needs and wishes of survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers, in particular Lauren Shifflet and her family. We will assess whether it merits our participation, our time and our attention. We will under no circumstances reveal the identities of anyone that has come forward confidentially to us concerning this case without their full permission. 

On Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 1:02 PM, Gordon Houser <> wrote:

Thanks, Barbra. Has Lauren decided she doesn’t want DSA to investigate, and has she or you communicated that with Ervin? I really need to know that before I can interview Ervin and Iris to write my story.

 On Fri Aug 5, 2016, Barbra Graber wrote:

Thanks, Gordon

You have Lauren’s statement. Her sister Marissa has made a public statement concerning DSA. See her FB page.  To my knowledge Ervin has not attempted to communicate with either Lauren or me concerning his choice of investigators. That would be his prerogative.  



Do Not Let Your Heart Beat Hope

Our Stories Untold

Jennifer (Jay) Yoder | August 11, 2016

“I’m going to destroy you, and I know exactly how.”

That’s the sentence that started a two-year run for me, one from which I’m still recovering, of a feral, terrified, and isolated existence. That’s the sentence that launched my former lover, partner, friend – the most trusted person in my life, into my predator, stalking me quite literally, as his prey.

Yes, his behavior leading up to it had slowly descended into violence in all the stereotypical ways that embody the characteristics of an abusive relationship. And yes, the day that I left him for good was marked by his murderous and explosive violence, from which I was extremely lucky to emerge alive.

But it was that sentence that launched me into an existence so filled with terror it nearly resulted in my suicide.

“Do Not Let Your Heart Beat Hope”

Mennonite Church USA sexual abuse panel withdraws from investigation

Mennonite World Review

Tim Huber | August 10, 2016

Mennonite Church USA’s Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention has terminated its participation in the process to select an independent organization to look into institutional responses to allegations of abuse by Luke Hartman, former vice president of enrollment at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

The panel released a statement Aug. 8 criticizing EMU for requiring confidentiality in the selection process. Panel chair Anna Groff was limited from sharing certain information with the panel and Lauren Shifflett, who brought the complaints against Hartman.

“The process undertaken, and in which we participated to this point, has focused too much on the needs of the institutions involved, and too little on the needs of the victim,” said the panel. “Keeping information from Lauren and excluding her from the process has created more mistrust and has betrayed the church’s commitment to victim-centered responses to sexual abuse.”

“Mennonite Church USA sexual abuse panel withdraws from investigation”

Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention ends participation in investigation

The Mennonite

Gordon Houser, with reporting by Hannah Heinzekehr | August 8, 2016

The Mennonite Church USA Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention has terminated its participation in the investigation into the handling of reports of sexual abuse at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Mennonite Church, Linville, Va. On Aug. 2, EMU announced that it had contracted with D. Stafford & Associates (DSA) and Mennonite Church USA, VMC and Lindale were in contract negotiations with the group.

On Aug. 3, in a statement to The Mennonite (and published on the MC USA website Aug. 8), the panel wrote, “We cannot affirm the process that resulted in the selection of D. Stafford for EMU, or any process that does not involve Lauren Shifflett…We are sorry for the ways in which we have been complicit in this, and view it as a missed opportunity. Now we are choosing to support Lauren, victims and survivors over this flawed process.”

“Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention ends participation in investigation”



Mennonite Bodies, Sexual Ethics: Women Challenge John Howard Yoder

Our Stories Untold

Rachel Waltner Goosen | August 8, 2016

The phenomenon of religious leaders violating individuals over whom they have spiritual authority has become part of public discourse, and Mennonite organizations, long insensitive to the harms associated with sexual abuse, now promote policies aimed at prevention. Increasingly, sexualized violence is subject to legal penalty, reflecting broad cultural and legislative shifts occurring over the past several decades. Sexualized violence is now widely regarded to be a public health issue. This evolution began in the 1970s, when according to the historian Estelle Freedman, “[feminist] organizers reframed sexual violence not merely as a private trauma but also as a nexus of power relations and a public policy concern.”

This historical context provides a framework for examining the legacies of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s decades long patterns of sexual abuse. Cloaked in theological language and often targeted at women whose church and family upbringing had encoura ged them to be reverential, his abuse was met with resistance from many Mennonite women, as well as out-migration of some of them from Mennonite churches and theological circles.

“Mennonite Bodies, Sexual Ethics: Women Challenge John Howard Yoder”

Lawyer Defends Amish Mom Accused of Giving 14-Year-Old Daughter to Man: This Is About ‘Difference in Culture’

People Magazine

Harriet Sokmensuer | August 4, 2016

The attorney for Savilla Stoltzfus, the Pennsylvania woman charged with endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly “gifting” her then-14-year-old daughter to a man who allegedly impregnated her twice, tells PEOPLE his client had good intentions and that “differences in culture is what this case is about.”

Stoltzfus and her husband, Daniel, who are Amish, promised their daughter’s hand in marriage to Lee Kaplan, 51, Savilla’s attorney, Craig Penglase, tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Of such a practice, Penglase says, “That happens in cultures all over the world.”

“Lawyer Defends Amish Mom Accused of Giving 14-Year-Old Daughter to Man: This Is About ‘Difference in Culture'”


Pennsylvania Man Allegedly Found with 12 Girls in Home Will Stand Trial, Judge Rules

People Magazine

Harriet Sokmensuer | August 3, 2016

A Pennsylvania judge ruled Tuesday that Lee Kaplan, the Festerville man arrested in June after police allegedly rescued 12 girls from his home, will stand trial for sexual assault and related charges, PEOPLE confirms.

Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Kate Kohler tells PEOPLE that the parents of many of the 12 girls, who ranged in age from 6 months to 18 years old, will also stand trial. The girls’ father, Daniel Stoltzfus, was charged with conspiracy to commit statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. Their mother, Savilla Stoltzfus, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. When Kaplan, 51, was arrested, Savilla Stoltzfus was also living in Kaplan’s home.

According to authorities, the Stoltzfuses allegedly “gifted” their then 14-year-old daughter, now 18, to Kaplan in exchange for financial help. Authorities allege Kaplan impregnated the girl and that she had two children by him: a six-month-old and a 3-year-old.

“Pennsylvania Man Allegedly Found with 12 Girls in Home Will Stand Trial, Judge Rules”

Sexually abused Amish teen girl was ‘gifted’ by parents to family’s financial backer, court hears

International Business Times

Paul Wright | August 3, 2016

A couple from Pennsylvania are to stand trial after being accused of giving away their 14-year-old daughter to a man 33 years her senior after he helped saved them from financial ruin.

In a case that has rocked their Amish community, a court heard the alleged child abuse victim went on to mother two children with the man and gave birth to their first baby aged just 15.

Lancaster County couple Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, the girl’s parents, have been charged with child endangerment with the father also charged with conspiracy to commit sexual assault.

“Sexually abused Amish teen girl was ‘gifted’ by parents to family’s financial backer, court hears”