Couple suspected of abducting Amish girls may have planned to kidnap more, sheriff says

A northern New York couple arrested in the kidnapping of two young Amish sisters may have planned to abduct more children, authorities say.

Stephen Howells II, 39, and Nicole Vaisey, 25, both of Hermon, were arrested Friday and charged with first-degree kidnapping with the intent to physically harm of sexually abuse the girls.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells said Saturday that "there was the definite potential" of additional victims besides the 7-year-old and 12-year-old sisters who were abducted Wednesday before being returned to their family late Thursday.

Wells, who said the motive behind the kidnappings was to "take these girls from their home and victimize" them, added that the couple may face additional charges.

The St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office issued a statement saying the arrests "no doubt saved young children from future abuse."

The suspects appeared in court with lawyers but were not allowed to enter a plea. They are being held without bond, with a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

The girls vanished Wednesday evening from their roadside farm stand in Oswegatchie, touching off a massive search in the farming community near the Canadian border. The suspects' home is about 13 miles from where the girls live.

They turned up safe about 24 hours later at the door of a house 15 miles from where they were taken. The homeowner, Jeff Stinson, told authorities he recognized the girls because he had bought corn from them before.

"The children seemed to be healthy, a little wet and cold," the prosecutor said earlier Friday. "They were dropped off at a residential area in Richville. The children knocked on the door of a stranger. The stranger brought them home to their house and the police were there waiting."

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 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.