Missing Amish girls found alive, authorities say

Last Updated Aug 15, 2014 3:28 AM EDT

OSWEGATCHIE, N.Y. -- Two missing Amish sisters were found alive Thursday evening, about 24 hours after they were apparently abducted from their family's roadside farm stand in northern New York, authorities said.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain said the girls turned up cold and wet but apparently unharmed at a home in Richville, about 13 miles from where they disappeared in the rural town of Oswegatchie, a farming community of about 4,000 people on the Canadian border about 150 miles north of the state capital of Albany.

She said 12-year-old Fannie and 7-year-old Delila Miller were dropped off and knocked on the door, asking for help getting home.

The girls were dropped off by two men, reports CBS Watertown, N.Y. affiliate WWNY-TV.

A neighbor who visited the Miller family after hearing word of the girls' return said she spoke with one of their brothers, who said they were well and being checked out.

There were no details immediately available on what happened to the girls or if there are suspects in their disappearance.

"We have the sheriff's department and the FBI speaking with the young ladies," Rain said, while noting that the Amish are a "very private people."

"I can't wait until they arrest these people, if there's more than one, because I would love an opportunity to prosecute them," she said.

After the initial interviews with investigators, the girls were being examined at a local hospital, WWNY said.

St. Lawrence County sheriff Kevin Wells says he's "confident" they'll be caught, notes WWNY. "We have the safe return of the two girls, but at the same time we have a lot of work to do. There's still been a crime committed here, these girls were still taken away from their homes," said Wells.

The station says information provided by the girls could be critical in tracking down their abductors.

Word of the girls' return came shortly after about 200 people attended a prayer vigil at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in nearby Heuvelton. They sang "Amazing Grace" and "This Little Light of Mine," read psalms and called children to the altar for a round of prayers.

Dot Simmons, a member of the congregation and neighbor of the Miller family, said despair turned to joy when she returned home from the vigil to word that the girls were safe.

She and her husband got a call saying that police scanner calls were reporting the unexpected outcome and they drove next door to find an ambulance and one of the Millers' older sons sharing the good news.

At the nearby police command post, authorities weren't releasing any information, but the subdued atmosphere had given way to law enforcement officers exchanging smiles and high-fives.

There was "a great sense of elation" among dozens of firefighters, emergency personnel and police officials over the girls' safe return, reports WWNY. One called it a "miracle."

The sisters vanished at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday after a white car pulled up to the farm stand and they went down to tend to the customers while the rest of their family stayed at a barn for the evening milking.

Searchers had scoured far northern New York for the girls in a hunt hampered by the lack of photos of the girls for authorities to circulate among a frightened community. The Amish, who eschew most modern technology, do not normally sanction photographs, but the family worked with a sketch artist to produce an image of the older girl that could be distributed to the media.

The girls are among the youngest of Mose and Barb Miller's 13 children, who range in age from 1 to 21 years, neighbor Dot Simmons said.

The girls routinely took on the chore of selling the fruits, vegetables, jams and other products of the farm, Simmons said.

"It's absolutely amazing," she said of their return.

St. Lawrence County is home to New York's second-largest Amish population, which has grown in the past decade because of productive land and property prices lower than in Pennsylvania.