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DA calls evidence strong against couple charged with kidnapping Amish children

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By AMANDA PURCELL

CANTON — St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain says the evidence is “strong” against the Hermon couple charged with kidnapping two Amish girls.

Since a search warrant was issued Friday morning, state police and FBI investigators have been combing the property at 1380 County 21, Hermon, that belongs to alleged kidnappers Stephen M. Howells II, 39, and Nicole F. Vaisey, 25.

The investigation now is focused on the couple’s house and a trailer in front of the house. Ms. Rain said Sunday that investigators were searching the home Saturday and Sunday for electronic media that will be taken for further forensics examination. DNA evidence also is being gathered. She said there is a lot of evidence to study.

“A lot of it is elimination,” Ms. Rain said. “We have to determine what is probative. Some evidence we might be able to review right off the bat. Digital data and photographs will be going through a lab once we can tell it has a purpose in our prosecution.”

The district attorney said she would review evidence with investigators at the crime scene later Sunday, and plans to meet with St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department officials today to determine what further charges can be brought against the couple based on the evidence.

No surprises came out of the search, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said after FBI investigators and state police collected “vans full of things” until Sunday evening.

After the evidence was collected, a K-9 unit arrived around 8 p.m. to make sure “there wasn’t anything that we missed,” Mr. Wells said.

“There was nothing collected that wasn’t on our chore list,” he said. “Everything on the property has been evaluated.”

He declined to comment on the type of evidence that was collected.

“I can’t tell you and couldn’t tell you because I wasn’t here,” he said after arriving at the home around 5 p.m.

Based on what has been found so far, the district attorney’s office has a strong case against the couple, Ms. Rain said. Each was charged late Friday with two counts of first-degree kidnapping with the intent to inflict physical injury or sexually violate or sexually abuse. More charges will be coming based on what evidence is found inside the home and trailer, she said.

Mr. Wells said Saturday that authorities believe the couple had planned to victimize other children.

The couple’s two cars — white and red four-door sedans — were sent to Ray Brook to “a secure facility indoors,” near the Troop B state police headquarters, for further examination, Ms. Rain said.

“That’s what we plan to do,” Ms. Rain said. “But there is a lot to still go through and many of these investigators have been trying to catch up on some sleep.”

Mr. Wells said he expects investigators will leave the crime scene by early this morning.

KEY LOCATIONS, EVENTS

Two Amish girls allegedly were kidnapped from their home on Wednesday, setting off a massive search that captured nationwide attention. Here’s how the chain of events unfolded:

• HEUVELTON — A hamlet in the town of Heuvelton, 8 Mount Alone Road. Two Amish girls ages 6 and 12 go to their roadside stand to wait on an apparent customer. When they don’t return after about 10 minutes, family members discover they are missing. They walk to a neighbor’s residence and police are notified that two children are missing at 7:20 p.m. Wednesday.

• BIGELOW — A hamlet in the town of DeKalb, one and a half miles north of Richville. The two children are dropped off in a rural area by their apparent abductors and knock at a stranger’s house between 8 and 9 p.m. Thursday. The children, cold, wet and barefoot, ask for a ride to their home.

• HERMON — 1380 County Route 21, town of Hermon. St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department investigators and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents go to the home of Stephen M. Howells II and Nicole F. Vaisey to discuss the case Friday morning. Those interviews lead to the couple’s arrest later in the day. Investigators spent the weekend searching the house and property.

• FOWLER — Hamlet in the town of Fowler. Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey, each charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping, are arraigned before Fowler Town Justice Paul M. Lamson late Friday night.

• CANTON — Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey are held without bail at the St. Lawrence County jail. They are tentatively scheduled to return to Fowler Town Court for a preliminary hearing on the felony charges on Thursday afternoon.

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