By SUE MENDE HEUVELTON — The father of two Amish girls who allegedly were abducted last week said Sunday that he feels sorry for the two people charged and jailed in connection with the incident.
The girls, ages 12 and 6, disappeared from the family’s roadside vegetable stand Wednesday evening, setting off a statewide Amber Alert and sparking nationwide concern. The girls were returned home about 24 hours after they disappeared.
Stephen M. Howells II, 39, and Nicole F. Vaisey, 25, both of 1380 County Route 21 in Hermon, were arraigned Friday on two counts each of first-degree kidnapping, with the intent to inflict physical injury or sexually violate or sexually abuse the girls.
In an interview at their Heuvelton home on Sunday, the girls’ father — Mose Miller, 44 — said he feels “sorry” for the suspects.
“It’s sad,” Mr. Miller said. “They must have ruined their whole life.”
His wife, Barbara Miller, 43, said she is grateful to have her girls back home, but daily life has not yet returned to normal at the two-story white farmhouse they share with their 14 children on Mount Alone Road, a narrow dead-end road off state Route 812.
“We feel relieved we have them. It’s still not like it was,” she said.
The couple did not express any anger toward the suspects, Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey.
On Thursday, the two sisters were dropped off by their alleged abductors in the hamlet of Bigelow. They walked to the nearest residence, the home of Jeffrey and Pam Stinson. Mr. Stinson drove the girls back to their home, where they were reunited with their family.
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain said the girls were cold, wet and hungry, but otherwise healthy.
Mattie Miller, 19, said her two sisters are not speaking much about their ordeal.
“(Talking about it) just makes it scarier for them,” she said.
In the Amish faith, forgiveness is a cornerstone that’s often difficult for non-Amish to comprehend.
“I think it’s the truest expression of their faith,” said Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, a SUNY Potsdam professor who is considered an expert on Amish culture. “It’s part of being Amish. Your goal is to try to live a life that follows Christ’s teachings and examples. Christ forgave those who hung him on the cross.”
A few other Amish families drove their horse and buggies to the Miller home on Sunday and were waiting for the Millers to arrive home from morning church services. Mr. Miller serves as a bishop for his church district and attended services with his family members, including his two daughters who allegedly were kidnapped Wednesday. The couple has nine daughters and five sons.
Dressed in their Sunday clothes, several women, men and children entered the Millers’ home, parking their buggies in the yard and chatting with each other casually. It was a much more common scene at the Amish home — far different than just a few days ago, when police investigators were searching the property for clues in the disappearance of the two girls.
There have been a few changes as a result of the incident. After the girls went missing, the family moved their wooden vegetable stand away from Route 812 and closer to the family’s home so they could keep a better eye on customers. They continue to sell beans, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables from the stand. Amish stands are closed on Sundays because Amish are not allowed to conduct business on the Sabbath Day.
The Millers’ 16-year-old son, Daniel, said several family members were milking cows in the barn when they realized the two girls weren’t at the stand Wednesday evening after they left to wait on a customer.
“A little time goes around and we started looking for them,” he said. “Dad went to the neighbors to call the sheriff.”
Noah Yoder, a 35-year-old Amish father who lives near the Millers, said Amish families probably will be more cautious about their children coming into contact with strangers as a result of the incident, especially those who operate vegetable stands.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they would keep a little more eye on it,” Mr. Yoder said.
However, he said he didn’t believe the incident would damage relationships Amish families have developed with the non-Amish.
“We can’t be afraid of your people,” Mr.Yoder said as he spoke with a reporter outside his home Sunday afternoon.
He was joined by three Amish friends and two of his four children.
While the Amish may be forgiving to those who have harmed them, Mrs. Johnson-Weiner said, it doesn’t mean they simply move on as if nothing happened.
“They forgive. It doesn’t mean they forget,” she said.