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SUNY Potsdam Amish expert knows Miller children as “sweet, delightful little girls”

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OSWEGATCHIE - An unwavering faith in God and the close-knit support of family and friends are the tools the Mosi J. and Barbara Miller family used to deal with the heartbreak and despair they were feeling following the alleged abduction of their two young daughters from a roadside vegetable stand Wednesday evening, according to a SUNY Potsdam professor of linguistics and anthropology who is an expert on Amish culture.

Hundreds of law enforcement agents combed an area in the town of Oswegatchie on state Highway 812 near Heuvelton for six-year-old Delila Miller and her 12-year-old sister Fannie Miller, two Amish girls who were last seen waiting on customers at their family’s vegetable stand on the Mount Alone Road about 7:20 p.m. Wednesday. A witness told police that a light colored, four-door sedan was seen at the stand and that someone was stuffing something into the back seat, at the time the girls disappeared. The girls were found Thursday night after being dropped off in a rural area outside of Richville.

Dr. Karen Johnson-Weiner, A SUNY Potsdam professor who has authored several books on Amish culture and lifestyle, said she knows the Miller family and the two girls well. Although she said no one can ever fully comprehend the anguish the Millers were feeling while their two daughters were missing, Ms. Johnson-Weiner said she is certain the family and larger Amish community in the region were relying on their unshakable belief in God, family and friends to work through the crisis.

“The community is with them. They have their faith, and for that they are very fortunate, because they do have such a strong faith,” Ms. Johnson-Weiner said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. on Thursday. “They will have friends and family gather to help them. There will be a strong community of folks offering friendship.”

Ms. Johnson-Weiner said she has known the Miller family for years and considers them close friends. She said her own heart broke at the thought of the girls being abducted and describes Fannie and Delila as sweet, loving and innocent.

“I know the girls. They are little girls. Sweet little girls. And right now something terrible has happened to them,” Ms. Johnson-Weiner said. “All I can say is they are sweet and delightful little girls.”

Ms. Johnson-Weiner said because Delila is only six it is doubtful that she speaks any English. She said it is typical for Amish families to speak only their Pennsylvania Dutch dialect at home, and that children don’t start studying English until they start school.

She said Mr. and Mrs. Miller are hard working, kind and caring parents and that in her view there is no explanation for the girls’ disappearance except that of an abduction. Ms. Johnson-Weiner described the Millers as wonderful people and parents.

“Right now they are living a nightmare,” she said Thursday, hours before the girls were returned to their parents by police. “I think this is a case where right now they will do anything they can to find the girls. The Amish know bad things happen in the world and they will do everything they can to protect their children.”

Ms. Johnson-Weiner added, “I think that this is not an Amish story. This is the story of a family whose little girls are in danger. This is a sad story.”

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, traveled to the Miller farm Thursday morning, where she met the family and other Amish community members to express her shock, sadness and dismay at the girls’ disappearance. She said she was moved by the family’s faith in God in the wake of the incident.

“It’s a tough day for Heuvelton,” Mrs. Ritchie said with tears in her eyes. “You never think something like this could happen in your hometown.”

Mrs. Ritchie said she did not know the Millers personally until meeting them Thursday.

“They are very religious people,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “What struck me is that their father said, “It’s in God’s hands now.”

Mrs. Ritchie made a plea to the alleged abductors. “It doesn’t matter why you took them. Just please bring the girls home. And bring them home safe,” she said.

Anna M. Hurst, Heuvelton’s village clerk, said she and others in the community are equally shocked and saddened by what occurred, and that the community is pulling together to show its support. She said she can’t understand how someone could hurt or take advantage of someone so young and innocent.

“I think the kids in our public schools are taught not to trust strangers,” Ms. Hurst said. “But I don’t know if the Amish are taught that. I don’t think they are.”

Heuvelton Mayor Barbara A. Lashua called the alleged abduction of the Amish girls a “heart-wrenching” occurance in the community. She said she and countless other volunteers are doing all they can to help support the law enforcement investigation now underway.

“I can’t think of anything that is more devastating than this kind of news for any community,” Ms. Lashua said. “There are no words. It’s a hellish nightmare. My fondest hope is that they will be returned,” Ms. Lashua said.

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