CANTON, N.Y. (AP) — The northern New York couple charged in the kidnapping of two young Amish sisters were prowling for easy targets and sexually abused the girls before letting them go, authorities say.
The couple were arrested and arraigned Friday on charges of kidnapping with the intent to physically or sexually abuse the 7-year-old and 12-year-old sisters.
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain said Saturday that the girls were sexually abused, and the county sheriff said Stephen Howells Jr. and Nicole Vaisey may have planned to abduct other children.
“We felt that there was the definite potential that there was going to be other victims,” St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells said.
Howells, 39, and Vaisey, 25, are being held without bail and have a preliminary court appearance scheduled Thursday.
The sheriff said the Hermon couple “were targeting opportunities” and did not necessarily grab the girls because they were Amish.
“There was a lot of thought process that went into this,” Wells said. “They were looking for opportunities to victimize.”
The sisters were abducted Wednesday from a farm stand in front of the family’s home in Oswegatchie, near the Canadian border. They were set free by their captors about 24 hours later and turned up safe at the door of a house 15 miles from where they were taken.
Vaisey’s lawyer, Bradford Riendeau told The New York Times that Howells had abused Vaisey and treated her submissively. He said she made a “voluntary statement” to investigators after her arrest and was obtaining an order of protection against him.
“She appears to have been the slave and he was the master,” Riendeau told the newspaper.
There was no answer Saturday at the St. Lawrence County Conflict Defender’s Office, which is representing Howells.
Wells said the girls were able to provide details to investigators about their time in captivity.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who may be victims of sexual abuse.
The kidnappings touched off a massive search in the family’s remote farming community. Searchers scoured the community of about 4,000 people, but were hampered by a lack of photos of the girls.
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.