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updated: 8/16/2014 2:39 PM

Two charged with abducting Amish girls

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  • Supporters gather on the porch of a house at the intersection of Route 812 and Mt. Alone Road in Heuvelton, NY on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 after Fannie Miller, 12, and her sister Delila Miller, 6, were returned home safely after being abducted Wednesday night at a farm stand near their home.

      Supporters gather on the porch of a house at the intersection of Route 812 and Mt. Alone Road in Heuvelton, NY on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 after Fannie Miller, 12, and her sister Delila Miller, 6, were returned home safely after being abducted Wednesday night at a farm stand near their home.
    Associated Press

 
By GEORGE M. WALSH
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A northern New York couple has been accused of kidnapping two Amish sisters from their family's roadside farm stand.

St. Lawrence County's District Attorney Mary Rain says 39-year-old Stephen Howells and 25-year-old Nicole Vaisey of Hermon were each charged Friday with two counts each of first-degree kidnapping.

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She says they're in custody awaiting arraignment Friday night and additional charges are possible.

The sisters vanished Wednesday evening in Oswegatchie, touching off a massive search in the farming community near the Canadian border.

They turned up safe Thursday night at the door of a house 15 miles from their home.

Authorities had been tight-lipped about details, including what happened to the 7 and 12-year-old girls.

Shocked residents were reluctant to let their children play outdoors since the episode.

A neighbor who visited the Miller family after hearing word of the girls' return said she spoke with one of their brothers, who said they were well and being checked out.

"We have the safe return of the two girls, but at the same time we have a lot of work to do," county Sheriff Kevin Wells told WWNY-TV. "There's still been a crime committed here, these girls were still taken away from their homes."

Word of the girls' return came shortly after about 200 people attended a candlelight prayer vigil at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in nearby Heuvelton. They sang "Amazing Grace" and "This Little Light of Mine," read psalms and called children to the altar for a round of prayers.

Dot Simmons, a member of the congregation and neighbor of the Miller family, said despair turned to joy when she returned home from the vigil to word that the girls were safe.

She and her husband got a call saying that police scanner traffic was reporting the unexpected outcome and they drove next door to find an ambulance and one of the Millers' older sons sharing the good news.

At the nearby police command post, authorities weren't releasing any information, but the subdued atmosphere had given way to law enforcement officers exchanging smiles and high-fives.

"We are celebrating tonight, but now the real work begins," Wells said, according to the Watertown Daily Times.

Authorities initially said the sisters vanished at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday after a light-colored car pulled up to the farm stand and they went down to tend to the customers while the rest of their family stayed at a barn for the evening milking. By Thursday night, however, they were looking for a red car.

Searchers had scoured Oswegatchie, a farming community of about 4,000 people on the Canadian border about 150 miles north of Albany, in a hunt hampered by a lack of photos of the girls for authorities to circulate. The Amish typically shun modern technology, but the family agreed to the release of a sketch of the older child, Wells said. They had to work with an artist who spoke their language, a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch.

The girls are among the youngest of Mose and Barb Miller's 13 children, who range in age from 1 to 21 years, said Simmons, the neighbor. The girls routinely took on the chore of selling the fruits, vegetables, jams and other products of the farm, Simmons said.

"It's absolutely amazing," she said of their return.

St. Lawrence County is home to New York's second-largest Amish population, which has grown in the past decade because of productive land and property prices lower than in Pennsylvania

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