on August 15, 2014 - 11:36 PM
, updated August 16, 2014 at 7:56 PM
CANTON, N.Y. — A couple accused of kidnapping two young Amish sisters were prowling for easy targets and may have also planned to abduct other children, a sheriff said today.
Stephen Howells Jr. and Nicole Vaisey, both of Hermon, were arrested Friday on charges they snatched the 7-year-old and 12-year-old girls from a roadside farm stand in front of their home near the Canadian border.
St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells said at a news conference today that more charges may be filed and that investigators are looking into whether the pair had plotted or carried out other abductions.
“We felt that there was the definite potential that there was going to be other victims,” Wells said.
The sisters were abducted Wednesday from their family’s farm stand in Oswegatchie and were set free by their captors Thursday.
Howells and Vaisey were arraigned late Friday on charges of first-degree kidnapping with the intent to physically harm or sexually abuse the victims.
The sheriff said Howells, 39, and Vaisey, 25, “were targeting opportunities” and did not necessarily grab the girls because they were Amish.
“There was a lot of thought process that went into this,” Wells said. “They were looking for opportunities to victimize.”
The suspects are being held without bail and have a preliminary court appearance scheduled for Thursday.
Bradford Riendeau, a lawyer for Vaisey, said, “We’re going to be reviewing the available evidence.” He expects to speak with her in jail later today, he said.
There was no answer today at the offices of the St. Lawrence County Conflict Defender’s Office, which is representing Howells.
Wells said the girls were able to provide details to investigators about their time in captivity.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who may be victims of sexual abuse.
The kidnappings Wednesday touched off a massive search in the family’s remote farming community.
The girls turned up safe about 24 hours later at the door of a house 15 miles from where they were taken.
Searchers had scoured the farming community of about 4,000 people, a hunt hampered by a lack of photos of the girls for authorities to circulate.
The Amish typically avoid modern technology, and the family had to work with an artist who spoke their language, a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch, to produce a sketch of the older girl.
The girls are among the youngest of a family with 13 children a neighbor said. The girls routinely took on the chore of selling the fruits, vegetables, jams and other products of the farm and had left the rest of their family during evening milking when they saw the car at the stand.
The episode left a sense of vulnerability in a community where residents said even small children often walk unaccompanied to school.
“One thing that comes from this is that people learn this can happen in a small town,” the prosecutor said. “I think the public will take precautions, and that’s the sad thing.”
Patricia Ritchie, the state senator representing the region, said many are now reluctant to let their children play outdoors unattended.
Ritchie said the Amish are responding in a way that may forever change a familiar feature of the local landscape: Some are taking down their roadside stands.
“This has sent a shockwave through their community,” she said.