Local news outlets are reporting that two Amish girls in upstate New York have been abducted while tending their family’s produce stand (Note: since the girls have now been found, the Amber Alert info, artist’s sketch, news station videos, and the girls’ names, originally included with this post, have been removed).
The St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s office has activated the Amber Alert for New York state.
The thing you don’t want to think about–but which I found myself inevitably thinking about–is what happened in that schoolhouse in Nickel Mines.
Amish children are different–some are shy and reserved around outsiders. Others belie that stereotype.
All things being equal, Amish children from plainer and more isolated groups are usually more reserved.
They tend to have less contact with non-Amish. The worldview of those groups also tends to be more insular, or maybe “inward-looking” is a better term.
This is the Heuvelton Amish settlement, a very plain Swartzentruber Amish community of around 1,800 located on the Canadian border.
However, it sounds like these girls were accustomed to attending to customers at the family’s roadside stand, so they no doubt had some comfort level around non-Amish people. According to WWNY TV:
The family was in the barn milking, and the two girls left the barn to go to the family’s roadside vegetable stand, because they believed a customer was there.
That’s when the abduction apparently took place. The information about the white car came from a passing Amish, who told investigators he saw a white vehicle by the stand at about the time the abduction took place.
A witness saw the passenger of the car throw something in back, then get in the back seat.
The St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, state police and the Border Patrol were all investigating Wednesday night, and road blocks were set up. A state police forensics unit has been called in, as has a K9 unit.
There really is no way of knowing what’s going on here, but your mind veers to the worst. One can only hope the girls are recovered safely.
The full Amber Alert information with descriptions of the girls is below (Update: Amber Alert info removed; girls were found Thursday evening). Anyone with information should call the sheriff’s department (315-379-2222) or 911.
UPDATE (1:41 PM): A WWNY TV story this AM tells of authorities getting several leads from the public, though they haven’t led to anything concrete yet.
Also, for reasons unknown, Sheriff Kevin Wells has inserted a small amount of uncertainty into yesterday’s description of a “confirmed child abduction”:
At an 11 a.m. news conference, Wells stepped back a little from calling it an abduction, even though Wednesday night’s Amber Alert called it a “confirmed child abduction.”
He said, however, that it’s “a very strong possibility.”
Close to 200 police, forest rangers and Border Patrol officers are working to locate the girls. Dive teams were called in to search the nearby Oswegatchie River.
The girls were of course dressed in Amish clothes when they disappeared, but that may no longer be the case. More:
“If it was an abduction, these girls don’t have to be dressed in Amish clothes anymore,” Wells said.
He noted that “lots of sex offenders” have been interviewed.
State Sen. Patty Ritchie of Heuvelton visited the Miller family Thursday morning and spoke with the missing children’s father.
She was visibly shaken following her conversation, tearfully telling 7 News reporter John Friot “I can’t believe something this horrible could happen in my backyard.”
A state police forensic team is expected on-scene Thursday morning to examine tire tracks left by the suspect vehicle.
Since no photos are available, a sketch artist has been called in to create images of the girls.
UPDATE 2: (2:15 PM) Video of St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells discussing the case.
“The Amish community is always cooperative with us and forthcoming. They communicate among each other very, very well. You’d be surprised how quick word spreads,” he says.
He is asked about the possibility of it being an “inside job” committed by someone who had left the community. Sheriff Wells: “There’s no indication of that at this time.”
He’s also asked if the girls could have left on their own. He says that is “highly improbable” give the children’s ages (12 and 6).
The sheriff’s message for the public: “Don’t wait and think that somebody else has called the police,” he says. “If you see something, say something. Be an active community member.”
He also suggests that the perpetrator could be mobile today, even though the girls disappeared yesterday evening. “Those first few hours are crucial.”
Update 3 (4:26 PM): Police have released a sketch of the older girl (Update: sketch and identifying info has been removed since the girls have been found).
Update 4 (10:20 PM): Reports have emerged that the two missing girls have been found alive. Via ABC News:
The sisters were dropped off in the town of Richville, about 36 miles from where they were abducted, District Attorney Mary Rain said. The girls walked to the closest home and the man who opened the door immediately knew who the girls were because of news reports.
The girls asked the man to take them home, Rain told ABC News.
The two young girls have been reunited with their family. They “seem to be healthy,” but were “cold and wet,” the DA told ABC News, and that they are being interviewed by authorities.
Rain said the sisters were still wearing the Amish attire when they were found. She also said that more than one person may have been involved in the girls’ abduction.
Further information, with slightly conflicting details, in this report from WWNY TV:
Friot reports the two girls were abducted by two men, who took them to a home in Bigelow, a hamlet near Richville at about 8:30 pm and left them there, telling the girls not to leave.
Instead, the girls fled, and went looking for help. They were found by a man a source identifies as Jeff Stinson, who returned them to their home.
Friot says the girls were cold and wet, but otherwise ok.
The two kidnappers remain at large.
Update 5 (11:57 AM Fri): Photos of the stand and farm.
Update 6 (12:19 AM Sat): A man and a woman have been arrested and charged in the abduction of the girls. From the New York Times:
The couple, Stephen Howells II, 39, and his girlfriend, Nicole Vaisey, 25, of Hermon, N.Y., were questioned by the police Friday night and were charged with kidnapping, according to Mary E. Rain, the St. Lawrence County district attorney.
“I can’t go into what they’re saying or what info they’re providing us with,” Ms. Rain said earlier. She raised the possibility of additional charges.
She would not comment on investigators’ views of why the couple had taken the girls, on whether they had abused them or if they had played a role in their eventually being freed on Thursday night. The couple live off County Route 21, within 20 miles of where the girls had been abducted.
Howells and Vaisey were charged with first-degree kidnapping, which could mean 25 years to life in prison.
More details have come out on how the girls made it to safety, finding their way to the doorstep of Jeff and Pam Stinson. Via ABC News:
When the girls arrived on their doorstep, the Stinsons fed them watermelon and grape juice and the girls were so hungry they couldn’t stop eating the watermelon.
“They ate that watermelon in 30 seconds. It was fast,” said Jeff Stinson.
Jeff Stinson knew exactly where the two girls lived because he had bought corn from the elder girl before at their vegetable stand.
At one point on the return home, the girls ducked in the back seat because they saw the kidnapper’s red car pulled over by the side of the road, the Stinsons said.
I found the last detail confusing, as the initial description had been of a white car. Of course, the alleged kidnappers could own more than one vehicle.
Update 7 (Sat 8:37 PM): I hate to share that this story just got a lot more awful. The New York Times is reporting that the girls were sexually abused:
Mary E. Rain, St. Lawrence County’s district attorney, said late Saturday evening that the girls, ages 7 and 12, had been abused. In a news conference on Saturday, Kevin M. Wells, the St. Lawrence County sheriff, portrayed the kidnapping as an opportunistic crime that emerged out of a longer-standing plan to abuse children. The couple did not previously know the sisters, Sheriff Wells said, nor did they approach the girls because they were Amish.