Couple charged with kidnapping Amish sisters near U.S.-Canada border

Police in New York state have charged a couple with kidnapping in connection with the disappearance over several hours earlier this week of two Amish sisters in a town not far from the Ontario border.

Authorities say additional charges are possible

A northern New York couple was arrested Friday in the kidnapping of two Amish sisters from their family's roadside farm stand.

St. Lawrence County's District Attorney Mary Rain said Stephen Howells II, 39, and Nicole Vaisey, 25, both of Hermon, were each charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping.

She said they were in custody awaiting arraignment Friday night and additional charges are possible. Both will have lawyers, but no pleas will be taken or bail granted, the prosecutor said.

Rain declined to discuss a motive for the abduction or provide any other specifics about the suspects. She said information provided by the girls helped lead to Howells and Vaisey. The suspects' home is about 20 kilometres from where the girls live.

"The suspects agreed to go to the sheriff's office to be interviewed earlier today and they were arrested after those interviews," Rain said.

The sisters vanished Wednesday evening in touching off a massive search in the farming community near the Canadian border in Oswegatchie, N.Y., about 100 kilometres from Kingston, Ont.

They turned up safe Thursday night at the door of a house about 22 kilometres from their home.

Authorities had been tight-lipped about details, including what happened to the seven-year-old and 13-year-old while they were missing. And Rain said Friday she would not release more details before a news conference with the county sheriff Saturday morning.

Searchers had scoured the farming community of about 4,000 people, in 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 of 13 children, who range in age from 1 to 21 years, said neighbour Dot Simmons. 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