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Investigators pursuing other possible suspects, victims in Amish kidnapping

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CANTON — Investigators are now pursuing other possible suspects and potential victims after two Hermon residents were charged Friday with kidnapping two Amish girls, according to St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells.

“We feel that there was the definite potential that there was going to be other victims from these two,” Mr. Wells said. “There was a lot of thought process went into this. They were looking for opportunities. The motive was to take these girls from their home to victimize them. We were led to the house through information the girls provided and a lot of police work.”

Nicole F. Vaisey, 25, and Stephen M. Howells II, 39, both of 1380 County Route 21, are accused of kidnapping Fannie Miller, 12, and her sister, Delila, 6, from their roadside farm stand Wednesday evening at Mount Alone Road, Heuvelton.

The couple did not know the girls, but the act was planned out, Mr. Wells said. He said the kidnappers were not specifically targeting Amish children but “targeting opportunity.”

Mr. Wells declined to comment on whether drugs played a role in the kidnapping. Mr. Howells is a registered nurse with Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg. Ms. Vaisey works at the Bows and Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort, Potsdam. They couple have been together for over a year and half, Mr. Wells said.

The sheriff said the investigation remains active.

“We are cooperating with the ongoing investigation and will be conducting our own investigation,” said Laura C. Shea, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center spokeswoman. “This is certainly no reflection on our commitment to protect our patients and staff.”

Mrs. Shea said Mr. Howells has been employed at Claxton-Hepburn since 2006, working in the emergency department. He has been a nurse in the Thomas T. Patterson Wound Healing Center since May. Mr. Howells has been suspended without pay pending the investigation, she said.

“We are saddened by these events. We plan to do all we can to help with the investigation,” she said.

State police investigators were at the couple’s home Saturday morning combing through a dilapidated trailer on the property. There were also a number of animals on the property, including chickens, llamas and several horses. Dogs were heard barking inside the couple’s house.

The sheriff’s department has credited the 12-year-old victim with providing police with critical information that led to the apprehension of Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey.

“The girls were strong,” Mr. Wells said. “They were able to verbalize to investigators some different facts about their time in captivity and with those details were instrumental in us being able to make the arrests.”

He said the couple abducted the girls with the intent to sexually victimize them.

Court documents allege Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey abducted the two children and restrained the children for more than 12 hours with the intent to either inflict physical injury or violate or abuse the two children sexually. They are each charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping and were sent to the St. Lawrence County Jail without bail following their arraignment late Friday night in Fowler Town Court. A preliminary hearing has tentatively been scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday.

The girls were dropped off by the alleged captors in the hamlet of Bigelow in the town of DeKalb. The girls reportedly showed up on the doorstep of Jeff and Pam Stinson’s home, barefoot, cold, wet and hungry. Mr. Wells declined to comment on why the girls’ captors released them.

“Those are details that are going to stay as part of the investigation,” he said.

Mr. Wells declined to say whether the couple used the Internet to victimize the girls.

Attorney Bradford C. Riendeau, Watertown, who represented Ms. Vaisey at their arraignment, has suggested his client also was a victim in the case.

“They were both involved in the complete scenario,” Mr. Wells said. “They have been cooperative in interviews to the point where we gained and moved ahead with the arrests.”

The couple were taken into custody Friday evening after sheriff’s department investigators and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents went to their home and conducted an interview with them.

Mr. Wells said that Mr. Howell’s three children were not in the home during the time of the abduction and are living with their mother.

Based on evidence found at the couple’s home, he said federal charges could be pending.

Investigators will continue to actively investigate the couple, Mr. Wells.

“We’re looking into what they have done, who else is involved, and we’re interviewing those people who know them. We’re going to keep moving forward until we get everything we can get,” he said.

The cooperation among law enforcement agencies brought swift resolution to a crime that stunned a community.

“It’s the way the system is supposed to work,” Mr. Wells said. “It is the way it is supposed to work and it does work that way. We’re a small law enforcement agency but we did not hesitate to utilize the state resources and the FBI. They have been awesome partners, and I can’t thank them enough. We have really good people in the sheriff’s office and investigators and, at the same time, we know certain things reach a certain scale then it is time to reach out to other agencies.”

Video of the Saturday morning news conference can be viewed at http://wdt.me/kidnap-newsconference.

Saturday morning press conference on Amish girls abduction

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