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Father of abducted Amish girls says he feels sorry for 2 suspects accused of sexual abuse

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OSWEGATCHIE, N.Y. - The father of two Amish girls abducted last week said he feels sorry for the man and the woman authorities say kidnapped and sexually abused them before letting them go.

The parents of the 7- and 12-year-old sisters spoke to the Johnson Newspapers at their home on Sunday, two days after Stephen Howells Jr. and Nicole Vaisey were charged with kidnapping with the intent to physically or sexually abuse the girls.

"It's sad," the 44-year-old father said. "They must have ruined their whole life."

The Associated Press is not naming the family members because it generally does not identify people who may have been victims of sexual abuse.

The sisters were abducted Wednesday from a farm stand in front of the family's home near the Canadian border. They were set free about 24 hours later and turned up safe at the door of a house 15 miles (24 kilometres) from where they were taken.

Howells and Vaisey were arrested Friday. Authorities say the couple sexually abused the girls before letting them go. District Attorney Mary Rain has said additional charges are likely as early as this week.

On Monday, she said Howells had waived his right to a hearing before any grand jury presentation. She said a preliminary hearing for Vaisey was still scheduled for Thursday.

Sheriff Kevin Wells said Monday that investigators have finished gathering evidence at the home Howells and Vaisey share. He said that it will take time to go through that information and that there had been no decision to file additional charges ahead of the hearing.

Lawyers for the suspects could not be reached by phone Monday, but Vaisey's lawyer, Bradford Riendeau, told The New York Times that she was in an abusive relationship with Howells.

The kidnappings touched off a massive search in the Amish family's remote farming community. Searchers scoured the community of about 4,000 people but were hampered by a lack of photos of the girls.

The Amish, a Christian group that espouses plain dress and humility, typically avoid modern technology, and the family had to work with an artist who spoke their language, a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch, to produce a sketch of the older girl.

The parents, who have 14 children, did not express anger toward the suspects.

A 19-year-old sister told the newspaper group, which includes the Watertown Daily Times, that her younger siblings were not speaking much about their ordeal. The mother said that she is grateful to have her girls back home but that daily life has not returned to normal.

"We feel relieved we have them," the mother said. "It's still not like it was."

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