HEUVELTON — Two Amish girls apparently abducted from the farm stand in front of their home were found safe near Richville on Thursday evening, just as a large crowd had gathered for a candlelight vigil praying for their return.
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain said the sisters, Fannie Miller, 12, and Delila Miller, 6, were dropped off in a vehicle and walked to a nearby residence to ask to be reunited with their family near Heuvelton.
The girls were cold and wet but appeared to be “healthy,” Ms. Rain said.
“We cannot tell you how delighted we are and how happy the family is now,” she said.
Law enforcement officers and firefighters joined in a round of applause at the command center at the Heuvelton Fire Department when they learned the girls were found safe. St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells congratulated the fire and police agencies.
“We are celebrating tonight, but now the real work begins,” Mr. Wells said.
Police are working to identify whoever is responsible for abducting the girls. The sheriff said more than one person could be involved. No arrests have been made.
The girls were being interviewed by St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department investigators and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Wells said he could not confirm whether the girls were able to provide a detailed description of any suspect.
On Wednesday night, police said they were looking for a small, white four-door sedan believed to have been used to take the girls. By Thursday night, however, police were looking for a red Dodge Caliber.
Ms. Rain said she is confident the investigation will lead to an arrest.
The return of the girls came 24 hours after they were reported missing about 7:20 p.m. Wednesday from their family’s roadside stand on Mount Alone Road, off Route 812 in the town of Oswegatchie.
As police, volunteers, dive teams and federal agents scoured the woods and plunged into the rivers between Heuvelton and Ogdensburg looking for the girls, Mr. Wells sent a message to whoever was responsible for taking them.
“We need the children brought back safely. Make a phone call,” Mr. Wells said. “You need to leave the children somewhere safe where we can find them.”
Authorities said the girls were dropped off at a house at county routes 18 and 20 in the hamlet of Bigelow, south of Richville, between 8 and 9 p.m. Thursday. The girls made their way to the home of nearby resident Jeff Stinson to ask for help. Meanwhile, the Rev. Rusty Bissell, of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in Heuvelton, was holding a prayer service attended by nearly 100 people, joining hands in the small church to pray for the girls’ safe return.
“I think the most important piece is that we have to stay hopeful. We just have to pray,” Heuvelton Mayor Barbara A. Lashua said at the vigil.
It was a day of fearing the worst.
Mr. Wells said during an afternoon media briefing that the search was “tough right from the very beginning” and the situation was being handled as a “worst-case scenario.”
“This is a very important issue, and these girls’ lives are what we are worried about,” Mr. Wells said. “Whether this was an abduction or if it was something else, this is something that needs a response and that is what we are here to do.”
While a statewide Amber Alert was issued, authorities could not provide pictures of the girls because their ultraconservative Amish community does not allow photography.
Sheriff’s deputies had released an artist’s sketch of the older sister, Fannie, but none was available for Delila.
“The agreement from the family was to do a sketch of the 12-year-old only; they wouldn’t agree to the sketch of the other child,” Mr. Wells said. “Just as we have no photos to begin with, it’s a belief within the Amish community, so we did really well to get this sketch and we are releasing it. It is not the family releasing the sketch; it is us releasing it.”
Nonetheless, the sheriff said, the Amish were cooperating with the investigation, and he emphasized their ties to the area.
“Anybody that lives in the community, anybody that spends time in this community, understands that the Amish are an important part of our community,” Mr. Wells said. “Stop at a stand, have a discussion yourself. Just leave your cameras at home and stop.”
Ogdensburg Walmart and Price Chopper donated food and drinks to support the Miller family. Dozens of neighbors and strangers were seen throughout the day dropping off food. Volunteer firefighters from throughout St. Lawrence County answered the call to search for the girls.
Divers from the St. Lawrence County Dive Team were called out Thursday morning, while K-9 teams and state forest rangers searched the woods and roadsides.
“The north country is a community that pulls together in times of tragedy and need, and you continue to inspire me,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.
Scores of state police, U.S. Border Patrol agents and county sheriff’s deputies set up checkpoints and canvassed door to door between Heuvelton and Ogdensburg when the Amber Alert went out Wednesday night.
The parents of the girls told authorities that the last they had seen of their daughters was when the girls were waiting on customers at the farm stand. The parents said they turned around and then noticed the girls were gone.
As soon as they noticed the girls were missing, family members walked to a neighbor’s house to call police, Mr. Wells said.
“I don’t think we expect this to happen in any community,” Mr. Wells said. “This is something that’s against what we all believe in, and we are all worried, no matter where these girls come from or what their background is.”