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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Amish Girls Kidnapped

     At seven in the evening of August 13, 2014, 6-year-old Delila Miller and her 12-year-old sister Fannie, members of an old-order Amish clan consisting of Mose and Barb Miller and their thirteen children, were working on the family farm when a car drove up to the Miller roadside vegetable stand. The Miller family resided in Oswegatchie, New York, a farming community of 4,000 near the Canadian border 150 miles north of Albany. Because the land was relatively inexpensive and the soil fertile, the Oswegatchie area had grown into the second largest Amish enclave in the state.

     When Delila and Fannie saw the 4-door white sedan pull up to the vegetable stand they walked the few hundred feet between the barn and the stand to greet the customers. The couple drove off, and when they did, the girls were gone. Someone ran to an English neighbor's house and called 911.

     The authorities issued an Amber Alert while scuba drivers prepared to search nearby rivers and helicopters flew over the area in search of the missing girls. Agents on the US/Canadian border reviewed surveillance camera footage in the event the abductors left the country.

     On Thursday evening at eight o'clock, 24 hours after the abduction, the kidnappers dropped the Amish girls off in Richville, New York, a town thirty miles from the Miller farm. The girls knocked on the first door they came to and asked for help. They were greeted by Jeff and Pam Stinson who recognized the older girl from  having purchased corn from her at the Miller produce stand.

     It had been raining and the girls were cold and wet. They were also hungry so the Stinson fed them grape juice and servings of watermelon. The girls quickly consumed the food and were driven straight home where they were met by the police.

     Police officers, working off clues provided by the kidnapped girls, identified a pair of suspects and took them into custody Friday night, August 15, 2014. Charged with counts of first-degree kidnapping, officers booked 39-year-old Stephen Howells II and Nicole Vaisey, 25, into the St. Lawrence County Jail.

     Stephen Howells lived in nearby Hermon, New York with Vaisey, his girlfriend. According to the St. Lawrence County sheriff, the couple and their victims did not know each other. The district attorney told reporters that Howells and Vaisey sexually abused the girls during their period of captivity. The judge denied the suspects bond.

     Sheriff Kevin Wells, at a press conference Saturday morning, August 16, in speaking about the suspects, said there was "definite potential" of other kidnap victims associated with the couple. As a result, addition charges could be filed against Howells and Vaisey. The sheriff said he believed the Amish kidnappings had been carefully planned.

     Howells, a father of three, worked as a registered nurse at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdenburg, a town adjacent to Oswegatchie.

     Nicole Vaisey graduated with honors in 2011 from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. During her senior year, as a psychology major, she received a $1,500 grant to do research about the effects of watching pornography on attitudes toward rape. She was president of the Mercyhurst chapter of Psi chi and a member of the Mercyhurst Psychology club and the school's Active Minds club.

     Upon graduation from Mercyhurst, Vaisey worked as a substitute teacher at a day care center then took a job with an agency in St. Lawrence County that serves developmentally disabled people. After moving in with Stephen Howell, she worked twice a week as a dog groomer at Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort. The couple met eighteen months ago online.

     Vaisey's lawyer, Bradford C. Riendeau, told a reporter with The New York Times that he planned to argue in court that his client was in an abusive and submissive relationship with Howells. She was not, he said, the lead person in the kidnapping. "She appears to have been the slave and he was the master."

     St. Lawrence County district attorney Mary Rain, said, "We are confident that Vaisey was equally involved in the allegations as he was." 

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