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Claxton-Hepburn registered nurse suspended, Potsdam pet bather fired following arrests

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HERMON — The couple charged with the kidnapping of two Amish sisters from their family’s roadside stand in Heuvelton Wednesday have a history of working with children.

The abductors, Stephen M. Howells, II, 39, and Nicole F. Vaisey, 25, both of 1380 County Route 21, were both sent to St. Lawrence County jail, Canton, without bail after being arraigned in Fowler Town Court on charges of first-degree kidnapping.

Ms. Vaisey worked part-time with Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort, Potsdam, for over a year. Her job was to bathe pets for the groomers, owner Chris Taylor said. She worked two days a week at the business.

While applying for the job, Mr. Taylor said Ms. Vaisey noted that she worked for LEAP and as a substitute teacher.

“She worked for LEAP, passed their background checks and one to become a substitute. There were no obvious signs of psychosis,” Mr. Taylor said.

He said he could not remember the last time Ms. Vaisey reported to work, but he said it was some time last week.

“We’re in shock,” Mr. Taylor said. “Everyone is quiet and can’t wrap your head around it. We, as a staff, are beside ourselves. We are surprised and disgusted. It feels like a dream, and you can’t wake up. You would never know. She is quiet. She always seemed to be a nice person. She was good with the animals. There were no signs to make you think that this was going on.”

Hermon Mayor Cathy L. Race met Mr. Howells briefly while taking her mother to an appointment at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg.

“He noticed we were from Hermon, and he said he was also. We live in such a small town here. I found it unusual that we never met before.”

Neighbors have said that Mr. Howells was friendly but mostly kept to himself.

“I guess I was shocked when I heard the news,” Ms. Race said. “It took me a little while to figure out who he was and I thought about it. I was thinking, an RN whose job it is to help people would not do something like this regardless of where they are from. And then when you find out they are from Hermon. It is very sad.”

Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center spokeswoman Laura C. Shea said hospitals are cooperating with the ongoing investigation and will be conducting their own internal investigation.

“We are saddened by these events. We plan to do all we can to help with the investigation. This is certainly no reflection on our commitment to protect our patients and staff,” she said.

Mrs. Shea said Mr. Howells has been employed at Claxton-Hepburn since 2006, working in the emergency department. He joined the Thomas T. Patterson Wound Healing Center in May.

Mr. Howells has been suspended without pay pending the investigation, she said.

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