Abducted Amish girls were sexually abused, prosecutor says

Last Updated Aug 16, 2014 11:50 PM EDT

CANTON, N.Y. - Two young Amish girls were sexually abused after their abduction from a roadside farm stand in northern New York, 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, both of Hermon, were arrested Friday on charges they snatched the 7-year-old and 12-year-old sisters from a roadside farm stand in front of their home near the Canadian border.

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Stephen Howells Jr., left, and Nicole Vaisey are shown in their booking photos, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. They are charged with kidnapping two Amish girls..
St. Lawrence County Sheriff/AP

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells said at a news conference Saturday 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."

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Nicole Vaisey and Stephen Howells Jr., both wearing striped prison jumpsuits, are led to their arraignment Friday night, Aug. 15, 2014.n
WWNY

A neighbor told CBS affiliate WWNY that three young children lived with the couple. Wells said one of the pair - he didn't specify whether it was Howells or Vaisey - had three children, but that the youngsters lived with "another parent."

The suspects are being held without bail and have a preliminary court appearance scheduled for Thursday.

Vaisey's lawyer, Bradford Riendeau told The New York Times that Howells had abused Vaisey and made her behave 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 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. Speaking Friday night, he praised the girls' courage, WWNY said.

"The reason why we were able to make arrests tonight was because of just how strong they are, and things that they're able to remember," the sheriff said.

The kidnappings Wednesday touched off a massive search in the family's remote farming community. Wells said the couple used multiple "methods of coercion" to get the girls into their car, but he did not elaborate.

The girls turned up 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.

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