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‘I can’t be angry at God,’ Amish grandmother says

Esther Lee says she feels no anger toward God about the unthinkable tragedy of losing her 4-year-old grandson and son-in-law when a wood-burning stove stoked with kerosene exploded in January in the basement of the Amish family’s Indiana County home.

Instead, she devotes her energy to the grandson who survived the blast — 5-year-old Andy — and her daughter, Mattie Hostetler, now a single mother to four children ranging in age from 2 to 7.

“I can’t be angry at God for doing this at all, and I know Mattie isn’t either,” Lee said. “But still there’s ‘whys?’ ”

Simply put, she says, “it was all as God intended it to be.”

Lee’s son-in-law Ervin Hostetler Sr., 29, and grandson Ervin Hostetler Jr., died from injuries they suffered when the father tried to restart the stove with kerosene, sparking an explosion when the fuel touched the hot embers.

The two boys were standing in the basement while their dad worked on the stove at Lee’s Smicksburg home where the young family had been temporarily staying while searching for a new house.

All three suffered third-degree burns in the blast and were flown to UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, where both father and son died.

Andy survived, but faced weeks of treatment at Mercy before being moved to the Hospital at The Children’s Institute in Squirrel Hill for rehabilitation.

“He’s doing great now. … He’s becoming little Andy again,” said Lee, who believes the boy may be discharged as early as this weekend.

The thin, quiet child with short, brown hair crunches a grape lollipop and squeezes orange juice from an oral syringe while his grandmother, dressed in traditional Amish garb, talks about his ordeal during an interview at the Children’s Institute. For religious reasons, the family did not permit photographs.

Andy, wearing slip-on shoes with yellow socks, gray athletic shorts and a green hospital gown tied into a makeshift T-shirt, has salve dabbed over the burns, covering 20 percent of his body and stretching up his right side from his arm to his chest, neck and ear.

Doctors used skin grafts from Andy’s thighs to repair the damage and he wears a neck brace to help prevent his healing skin from tightening. He undergoes speech therapy because a burn is pulling down on his mouth, hindering his ability to enunciate.

Andy speaks only German, but, like other Amish children, will learn English when he begins school, hopefully in September, Lee said.

At night, his mother sleeps next to him in a chair, in case he needs her. She left his side only twice — to bury her husband and son.

Lee, 56, said she stays at a nearby home reserved for patients’ out-of-town family, while her husband, Daniel, 51, works in a sawmill and tends to their home. He makes the journey to the hospital when possible.

The family is ready to be reunited and begin rebuilding their lives.

When they go home, a house will be built next to the Lees for their daughter and grandchildren.

And there will be work to do. Tending to Andy’s dressings and continuing his rehabilitation will be a priority, according to Roya Kousari, the institute’s marketing and communications director.

Meanwhile, the family has been overwhelmed by the generosity of both the Amish and non-Amish communities. Food has been dropped off at their home.

And as is tradition, money collected in the Amish church communities will be given to the family.

“That’s our insurance,” Lee said.

In the days after the explosion, her Amish neighbors stepped in to repair the damage at her home.

A fund has been set up to help defray their medical expenses.

The Amish do not have medical insurance and they could face bills “into the millions,” said Linda Hemmes of Kittanning, a trustee of the “Ervin and Andy Charitable Trust.”

Hemmes became involved when her brother, who lives near the Lees, found out about the extraordinary expenses they were facing.

More than $32,000 sits in the fund, Hemmes said, with $5,000 more pledged.

Additional Information:

To donate

Send a check or cash to:

First Commonwealth Bank c/o Jess Fleming

Ervin and Andy Charitable Trust

224 Main Street

Plumville, PA 16246


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