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Couple arrested in kidnapping of Amish girls

ALBANY, N.Y. — A northern New York couple has been arraigned on charges they intended to physically harm or sexually abuse two Amish sisters after abducting them from a roadside farm stand.

Stephen Howells II, 39, and Nicole Vaisey, 25, both of Hermon, were each charged Friday night with two counts of first-degree kidnapping. They appeared in court with lawyers, but were not allowed to enter a plea. A town justice ordered them jailed without bond, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

The St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement late Friday saying the arrests of Howells and Vaisey “no doubt saved young children from future abuse.”

Sheriff Kevin Wells said in a statement that the older of the two girls provided “crucial information” that led to the arrests.

District Attorney Mary Rain declined to discuss a motive for the abduction or provide any other specifics about the suspects. She said information provided by the girls helped lead to Howells and Vaisey. The suspects’ home is about 13 miles from where the girls live.

“The suspects agreed to go to the sheriff’s office to be interviewed earlier today and they were arrested after those interviews,” Rain said.

More information was expected to be released at a news conference Saturday morning.

The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse.

The 7-year-old and 12-year-old vanished Wednesday evening in Oswegatchie, touching off a massive search in the farming community near the Canadian border.

They turned up safe about 24 hours later at the door of a house 15 miles from where they were taken. Hermon is about 13 miles from Oswegatchie.

“The children seemed to be healthy, a little wet and cold,” the prosecutor said earlier Friday. “They were dropped off at a residential area in Richville. The children knocked on the door of a stranger. The stranger brought them home to their house and the police were there waiting.”

Searchers had scoured the farming community of about 4,000 people, in a hunt hampered by a lack of photos of the girls for authorities to circulate.

The Amish typically avoid modern technology, and the family had to work with an artist who spoke their language, a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch, to produce a sketch of the older girl.

The episode left a sense of vulnerability in a community where residents said even small children often walk unaccompanied to school.

“One thing that comes from this is that people learn this can happen in a small town,” the prosecutor said. “I think the public will take precautions, and that’s the sad thing.”

Patricia Ritchie, the state senator representing the region, said many are now reluctant to let their children play outdoors unattended.

Ritchie said the Amish are responding in a way that may forever change a familiar feature of the local landscape: Some are taking down their roadside stands.

“This has sent a shockwave through their community,” she said.

——

Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak in New York City contributed to this report.

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