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An arrest has been made in the slaying of a pregnant Amish woman in Pennsylvania

Shawn C. Cranston has been charged with criminal homicide, criminal homicide of an unborn child, burglary and criminal trespass, Pennsylvania State Police said.
Police vehicles on the Fish Flats
Police vehicles on the Fish Flats property in Spartansburg, Pa., on Feb. 27.Craig Rouse / WJET via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

SPARTANSBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania State Police arrested a man Saturday accused of murdering a pregnant Amish woman last week. 

Shawn C. Cranston, 52, of Corry, is charged with criminal homicide, criminal homicide of an unborn child, burglary and criminal trespass.

According to court documents obtained by NBC News, Cranston allegedly broke into the home of Rebekah A. Byler, 23, of Sparta Township last Monday and killed her by “shooting [her] in the head and/or slashing her throat.”

Police said she was found dead by a family member just before 12:30 p.m. They said her two children were also inside the home when her body was discovered.

Cranston was denied bail at a preliminary arraignment early Saturday morning due to the possibility of a life sentence, and is being held at the Crawford County jail.

Court records show he has a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 15. He has not requested a public defender.

The killing shocked the rural community in northwestern Pennsylvania, where people say the Amish get along well with their neighbors in the area.

Police began their investigation Feb. 26 after Byler’s husband, Andy Byler, found her body inside the home shortly after noon.

Trooper Cynthia Schick told The Associated Press on Thursday the investigation and autopsy have given police an idea of what murder weapon may have been used.

Two young Byler children at the home were not harmed, Schick has said.

The Bylers’ home is located along a dirt road in a very remote farming area. Scores of Amish turned out for calling hours Thursday evening at a home in the community. Many arrived by buggies lit by headlights along the narrow country roads.

Residents said the Amish had a long-standing presence in the area and mix well with the surrounding community. Amish and non-Amish visit each other’s homes, and the Amish work jobs for the non-Amish and attend events like fish fries, they said. Neighbors have been raising money to help the Byler family.

The Amish generally follow basic Christian beliefs and practices but are not homogeneous, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. They are known for simple clothing and for relying on horses and buggies for transportation. Local congregations maintain a variety of rules and restrictions regarding dress, the use of technology and participation in American society.

The overall Amish population is nearly 400,000 people in hundreds of settlements across 32 states, Canada and Bolivia. Pennsylvania has one of the greatest concentrations of Amish.