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Victim’s aunt: Alleged kidnappers used dog to lure younger child into vehicle

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HEUVELTON - A puppy was used to lure two Amish sisters into a car driven by two alleged kidnappers who are now behind bars in the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility, according to one of the girls’ relatives.

Fannie Miller of Route 184, Depeyster, said Monday she visited her nieces, ages 12 and 7, on Friday and learned that the girls were enticed by their abductors to pet a puppy that was in the back seat of a vehicle at the roadside vegetable stand the girls were manning in front of their home at the corner of state Route 812 and Mount Alone Road.

She said her younger niece went into to the vehicle first and when her older sister followed, the abductors pushed the older girl into the car.

“She (the older sister) tried to run away, but she couldn’t get away,” Mrs. Miller said.

Mrs. Miller said she visited her nieces the day after they were returned home by a Bigelow couple who found the girls wet, cold and hungry on their doorstep Thursday evening.

“The older one still seemed nervous about it. She looked like a child who had been through something,” she said. “We’ve been out a couple times to see the family.”

Other family members have said handcuffs were used to shackle the girls ankles and hands together for a period of time while they were in captivity.

State police and FBI investigators appeared to have finished their search of the home of alleged kidnappers, Stephen M. Howells II, 39, and Nicole F. Vaisey, 25, on Monday.

The couple of 1380 County Route 21 in Hermon were both charged Friday with two counts of first-degree kidnapping in connections with the girls’ disappearance. Not guilty charges were entered on their behalf.

A gate now blocks the driveway from access to a property that has had considerable police activity since Friday.

Meanwhile, investigators worked well into the night at the residence Sunday and were joined at the scene early Sunday evening by St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells and Ms. Rain.

The investigators had been combing the property at 1380 County 21 since a search warrant was signed Friday.

The investigators focused on the couple’s home and a trailer in front of the house. Ms. Rain said Sunday that investigators were searching the home over the weekend for electronic media that will undergo a forensics examination. DNA evidence also is being gathered. She said there was a lot of evidence taken from the property to review.

The couple’s trailer, camper, barn and house were all searched. Investigators collected small brown paper bags of evidence and loaded them into two dark vans throughout the day on Sunday. Some of the evidence, including a computer monitor, processor and CD-ROMs, were confiscated by investigators for further forensic analysis. Investigators also took several photos inside the house.

Investigators have now started talking to people that have had close ties with Mr. Howells and Ms. Vaisey over the past several years.

Ms. Vaisey, who graduated from Colton-Pierrepont Central School in 2007, was active in extra-curricular activities, according to Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash.

He said that while he did not know her well he recognized the Hermon resident’s name and photograph when it appeared across news outlets last week.

“We keep track of the students as much as they come back and tell us. We don’t actively track where they go on after the school,” Mr. Kardash said.

He said he believes that Ms. Vaisey participated in basketball and softball for the Colts.

“It’s confusing to understand how a situation like (the kidnapping) can come to be,” Mr. Kardash said.

According to CPCS Board of Education documents from 2011, Ms. Vaisey nearly made her way back onto school grounds in a substitute teaching role three years ago.

During the CPCS BOE meeting of Oct. 19, 2011, Ms. Vaisey was approved for placement on the district’s substitute teacher list. Mr. Kardash noted that she never made it into the classroom though.

“I have no record of her substituting at Colton-Pierrepont. She was never actually in the classroom,” he said. “She never got called in, and she never got paid. She was appointed to a substitute list but was never in the classroom. … I looked for a pay record but did not find her name anywhere in the pay books.”

After graduating from Colton-Pierrepont in 2007, Ms. Vaisey attended Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., majoring in psychology. She graduated from the school in 2011.

Most recently, Ms. Vaisey worked part-time with Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort, Potsdam, for over a year. Her job was to bathe pets for the groomers, owner Chris Taylor has said. She worked two days a week at the business.

While applying for the job, Mr. Taylor said Ms. Vaisey noted that she worked for LEAP and as a substitute teacher.

A call to LEAP was not returned Monday.

The 25-year-old is a member of two Facebook groups, including the Potsdam Humane Society page, and has 152 friends on the social networking site according to her page.

Unlike Mr. Howells though, an active user of the site, Ms. Vaisey is an infrequent poster.

Her last activity that appears on Facebook is from April 25 when she changed her profile picture to a photo of the duo. The photo has been shared over 30 times, many of which are from the past week and are accompanied by profanity-laced comments.

Mr. Howells has been employed at Claxton-Hepburn since 2006, working in the emergency department. He joined the hospital’s Thomas T. Patterson Wound Healing Center staff in May.

Mr. Howells has been suspended without pay pending the investigation, according to hospital staff.

Mr. Howells, 39, graduated from Canton in 2004 with a degree in Nursing. He is originally from Hermon and has posted five times this month, according to his Facebook page.

Some of the posts from earlier this summer include photos of Mr. Howells and a young boy participating in activities like flying model airplanes.

Mr. Howells’ cover photo for his page is of himself, an older man, and three of his kids at the Franklin County Fair in Malone.

His “about” section under his profile includes being “In a relationship with Nicole Vaisey.”

Mr. Howells, 39, grew up in Hermon, according to his Facebook page.

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