CANTON, N.Y. – Two young sisters were sexually abused after their abduction from a roadside farm stand in New York state, a prosecutor said Saturday.
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain’s disclosure came hours after the county’s sheriff said the couple charged in the kidnapping were prowling for easy targets and may have planned to abduct other children.
Stephen Howells Jr. and Nicole Vaisey were arrested and arraigned Friday on charges they abducted the 7-year-old and 12-year-old sisters with the intent to physically or sexually abuse them.
“We felt that there was the definite potential that there was going to be other victims,” St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells said.
The sisters were abducted Wednesday from the farm stand in front of the family’s home near the Canadian border. They were set free by their captors about 24 hours later and turned up safe at the door of a house 15 miles (24 kilometres) from where they were taken.
The sheriff said Howells, 39, and Vaisey, 25, “were targeting opportunities.”
“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. A preliminary court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.
Vaisey’s lawyer, Bradford Riendeau told The New York Times that Howells had abused Vaisey and treated her submissively. He said she made a “voluntary statement” to investigators after her arrest and was obtaining an order of protection against him.
“She appears to have been the slave and he was the master,” Riendeau told the newspaper.
There was no answer Saturday at 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 touched off a massive search in the family’s remote farming community. Searchers scoured the community of about 4,000 people, but were hampered by a lack of photos of the girls.
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.