Two Amish girls who were kidnapped this week were sexually assaulted during the 24 hours they were held captive, law enforcement officials told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday.
St. Lawrence County Dist. Atty. Mary Rain said the victims, a 12-year-old girl and her 6-year-old sister, suffered the assaults after they were abducted near their family's home in Heuvelton, N.Y., on Wednesday.
Stephen Howell II, 39, and Nicole Vaisey, 25, are charged with kidnapping the girls. Rain said Howell and Vaisey had been charged with first-degree kidnapping rather than sexual assault because in New York the first-degree charge applies if kidnapping victims suffer an injury or sexual assault.
The Los Angeles Times and many other news organizations previously published the girls' names, which were revealed when they first went missing, but The Times is now withholding their identities because of the sexual assault allegations.
Rain declined to say whether one or both suspects were believed to have been involved in the assault. Howell and Vaisey were a couple, according to Rain.
The two girls walked out to their family's roadside vegetable stand on Wednesday night after they mistook Howell and Vaisey for customers. The couple snatched the girls and dropped them off late Thursday night in Richville, N.Y., where they approached a stranger's home, who recognized their Amish garb from news reports and called police.
The 12-year-old was able to point police to the couple's home in nearby Hermon, and Howell and Vaisey agreed to be interviewed on Friday night. They were arrested and charged with first-degree kidnapping a short time later, according to Det. Sgt. Brooks Bigwarfe of the St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office.
On Saturday, Bigwarfe told The Times that police were reviewing evidence that the pair may have been involved in previous kidnappings.
"We're looking into other information that there may have possibly been attempts," Bigwarfe said.
Howell works as a nurse at an area health clinic, and Vaisey is a dog groomer, Bigwarfe said. The couple had no prior arrests and have no children, he said, adding that the girls were not targeted because they were Amish.
The girls' disappearance Friday touched off a massive search that involved nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies and hundreds of rescue personnel. The search was complicated by the fact that the Amish shun modern technology, so the New York State Police could not release photographs of the girls when they issued an Amber Alert.
In a statement issued Saturday, the St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office said it feared that Howell and Vaisey might have planned to strike again.
"The arrest of the two persons have with no doubt saved young children from future abuse at the hands of these two," the statement read.
Howell and Vaisey face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the first-degree kidnapping charge, according to Rain. They are being held without bail.