ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Searchers scoured a patch of far northern New York on Thursday for two Amish girls who were apparently abducted from their family’s roadside farm stand, a hunt hampered by the lack of photos of the girls for authorities to circulate among a frightened community.
The sisters, 7-year-old Delila Miller and 12-year-old Fannie Miller, vanished around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday after a white car pulled up to the farm stand near Oswegatchie, a community of about 4,000 on the Canadian border 150 miles northwest of Albany.
Both were wearing dark blue dresses with blue aprons and black bonnets. Because the Amish tend to shun modern technology, police have no photographs of the girls. But St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells said the family has agreed to the release of a sketch of the older child. He also noted that English isn’t the girls’ first language and that anyone who talks with them may notice a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.
Divers plumbed the nearby St. Lawrence River to rule out the possibility the girls were in the water, Wells said at an afternoon news briefing. Helicopters and search teams on foot tried to make sure they weren’t near the family home, and investigators were talking with nearby registered sex offenders.
“We will aggressively pursue this case as a worst-case scenario,” Wells said. Authorities are pursuing “numerous leads,” he said.
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. On Wednesday, the entire family had gone to the barn as usual for evening milking.
But, Simmons said, “The girls were always on watch if someone stopped to buy vegetables.”
When the family noticed the girls hadn’t returned, they quickly checked the cornfield, she said, knowing it was unlikely they would have wandered off. That’s when police were notified, and an Amber Alert was sent out.
“We were down there last night. I cooked a casserole, cake, stuff like that, and took it down to them,” Simmons said. “I talked to the mother and consoled her.”
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. The Amish are helping law enforcement get the word out the old-fashioned way — by word of mouth.
“You’d be surprised how quick word spreads,” Wells said.
The Rev. Rusty Bissell, of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in nearby Heuvelton, invited the community to a prayer service Thursday evening. He described a small, tight-knit community where even small children walk to school. That, he said, has changed overnight.
“There are no kids outside anywhere today,” Bissell said. “There are no kids on bikes, and that’s unusual.”