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Senior Helps FBI Nab Suspects In Michigan Kidnapping Case

By Sewell Chan

A Harvard senior's chance encounter on an evangelical mission over spring break led to the FBI's arrest of three suspected kidnappers, ending a four-day, nationwide search for two sisters who had been abducted from their Michigan home.

Theresa M. Hainer, 9, and Jessica L. Hainer, 6, were returned to their Galesburg, Mich., home Tuesday night after police in Daytona Beach, Fla., apprehended three men, one of them the girls' former babysitter.

The police were tipped off by Loh-Sze Y. Leung '97, a Dunster House resident, who met the men and the girls last Monday and later saw them on television.

The next morning, police arrested Ronald S. Stafford, 21; his brother Lee Stafford, 17; and Rick J. Geer, 19, on federal kidnapping charges. FBI agents testified last week that at least one of the girls had been sexually molested.

The girls had last been seen in the vicinity of their home in Galesburg, Mich., on Friday, March 21 in the company of the three men, the FBI said. Their disappearance triggered a nationwide search for the men, who the FBI described as armed and dangerous.

"I believe it was God that led me to meet them, to place me in the same area of the beach at the same time and lead us to have a conversation, and led them to be so open with us," Leung said in an interview yesterday. "It's got to be divine."

Leung was in Florida with students from M.I.T., Wellesley and several Minnesota colleges as part of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's annual Florida Evangelism Project, whose participants talk with people in Daytona Beach--many of them college students on spring break--about Christianity and "seek to show God's love to people in tangible ways," she said.

Leung was swimming Monday afternoon when she met Lee Stafford, who told her that he was 18 and that he had recently earned his GED. Lee Stafford pointed out his brother and his friend in the water and said they were with two girls who he said were his brother's children.

"He was completely honest with me and told me everything about himself," said Leung. Later, Leung and two friends from MIT were introduced to the two girls.

"They were really quiet and withdrawn," Leung said. "The older one seemed kind of unhappy. They looked dirty because they had been swimming in the ocean all day. It struck us as kind of odd."

Over a dinner of spaghetti and hamburgers that night in the students' hotel room, the men discussed religion with Leung and her friends. The men left with Theresa and Jessica around 7:30 p.m.

Leung said she felt sorry for Lee Stafford, who she said "seemed kind of unhappy." He said he had moved from Michigan to Florida to achieve greater independence from his parents, and spoke of possibly getting a job at a pizza store in Daytona Beach, according to Leung.

"He was looking for adventure and excitement, and independence and freedom, but I couldn't see that he was going to find it by leaving home," Leung said. "None of them fit into the Daytona Beach scene."

After the men left, Leung settled down with other students to watch the Academy Awards ceremony on television. Before the program began, they saw an announcement about the kidnapping, with images of the men and the girls. "All of us recognized them instantly," Leung said.

Karl Wirth '93, a Harvard graduate who works at MIT and was leading the evangelism project, called the police and the FBI.

The students spent the night waiting, praying and filling out witness forms.

The next morning, a "very alert officer" from the Daytona Beach Police Department spotted the men's 1988 Pontiac station wagon parked in Daytona Beach early in the morning, Special Agent Bill Cheek of the Jacksonville, Fla., FBI office said in an interview Friday.

Officers fanned out over the area and a detective spotted the men and the girls walking along the beach front. The men were arrested after they entered a gift shop at about 9:30 a.m., Cheek said.

At 4:15 that afternoon the three men were charged under the federal kidnapping statute. If convicted they face "any term of years up to life," Cheek said.

Police declined to release Lee Stafford's name because he is a minor, but Reuters reported that he is being charged with kidnapping under Michigan state law, which would allow him to be tried as an adult.

The Hainer sisters were given baths, examined by doctors and referred to counselors, Reuters reported.

Tuesday night, the girls were flown back home to Michigan, where, hugging teddy bears, they were greeted by their grandmother at the airport.

"The girls are safe," Special Agent Joseph D. Martinolich Jr. of the FBI's Detroit office said at a Tuesday news conference in Kalamazoo, Mich. "We were told by the agents at the scene that they're none the worse for the wear. Maybe a little tired, a little bedraggled, maybe disheveled, but they're in good shape."

However, investigators who interviewed the girls and the men testified last week that at least one of the girls had been sexually molested.

At a bond hearing Wednesday, Daytona Beach Detective John Adazzio testified that Jessica Hainer said Ronald Stafford, the girls' former baby-sitter, molested her in a Daytona Beach hotel room after the abduction.

Adazzio also testified that a medical examination of the six-year-old showed no evidence of penetration, and that Theresa Hainer said she was not molested.

Also at the hearing, FBI Agent James Dougal testified that Geer said Ronald Stafford had fondled the breast areas of one or both girls and had taken one of them into the woods for an hour.

Dougal also testified that Ronald Stafford said his brother and Geer had pinched the girls in the buttocks and grabbed their legs.

Ronald Stafford's attorney denied that his client had molested the girls. Although Ronald Stafford has a juvenile record for sexual assault, his attorney said it was only for stabbing a boy in the buttocks with a needle.

The FBI would not comment on possible motives for the kidnapping.

But Dougal testified that Ronald Stafford told him the three men had planned the abduction for two weeks because they suspected abuse on the part of the girls' father. The father, Jesse Hainer, said he had known Stafford for more than a year but later told him to keep away from the girls.

Ronald Stafford and Geer were denied bond Wednesday. Lee Stafford had a bond hearing as well but his records were sealed because he is a minor. The three suspects may not be returned to Michigan for up to a month while federal authorities process their extradition.

Leung--who did not know at the time whether the girls had been abused--said she viewed the incident and the capture of the three men with some sadness.

"We knew they had done the wrong thing, but after they had been so open with us and they had basically trusted us, and we had invited them over for dinner, we did feel kind of a sense of betrayal," she said. "We didn't want to give them a bad impression of Christianity because we turned them in."

Leung added: "We wanted to make it clear that we condemn what they did but we don't condemn them. We're hoping God uses this event in their lives to change their perspectives."

Leung, a concentrator in East Asian studies, lives in Burlingame, Calif. She is considering pursuing a career in non-profit community service or education and plans to study for a year in China and also to work as a fellowship staff member at Harvard for a year following graduation.

--Material from The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Leung said she felt sorry for Lee Stafford, who she said "seemed kind of unhappy." He said he had moved from Michigan to Florida to achieve greater independence from his parents, and spoke of possibly getting a job at a pizza store in Daytona Beach, according to Leung.

"He was looking for adventure and excitement, and independence and freedom, but I couldn't see that he was going to find it by leaving home," Leung said. "None of them fit into the Daytona Beach scene."

After the men left, Leung settled down with other students to watch the Academy Awards ceremony on television. Before the program began, they saw an announcement about the kidnapping, with images of the men and the girls. "All of us recognized them instantly," Leung said.

Karl Wirth '93, a Harvard graduate who works at MIT and was leading the evangelism project, called the police and the FBI.

The students spent the night waiting, praying and filling out witness forms.

The next morning, a "very alert officer" from the Daytona Beach Police Department spotted the men's 1988 Pontiac station wagon parked in Daytona Beach early in the morning, Special Agent Bill Cheek of the Jacksonville, Fla., FBI office said in an interview Friday.

Officers fanned out over the area and a detective spotted the men and the girls walking along the beach front. The men were arrested after they entered a gift shop at about 9:30 a.m., Cheek said.

At 4:15 that afternoon the three men were charged under the federal kidnapping statute. If convicted they face "any term of years up to life," Cheek said.

Police declined to release Lee Stafford's name because he is a minor, but Reuters reported that he is being charged with kidnapping under Michigan state law, which would allow him to be tried as an adult.

The Hainer sisters were given baths, examined by doctors and referred to counselors, Reuters reported.

Tuesday night, the girls were flown back home to Michigan, where, hugging teddy bears, they were greeted by their grandmother at the airport.

"The girls are safe," Special Agent Joseph D. Martinolich Jr. of the FBI's Detroit office said at a Tuesday news conference in Kalamazoo, Mich. "We were told by the agents at the scene that they're none the worse for the wear. Maybe a little tired, a little bedraggled, maybe disheveled, but they're in good shape."

However, investigators who interviewed the girls and the men testified last week that at least one of the girls had been sexually molested.

At a bond hearing Wednesday, Daytona Beach Detective John Adazzio testified that Jessica Hainer said Ronald Stafford, the girls' former baby-sitter, molested her in a Daytona Beach hotel room after the abduction.

Adazzio also testified that a medical examination of the six-year-old showed no evidence of penetration, and that Theresa Hainer said she was not molested.

Also at the hearing, FBI Agent James Dougal testified that Geer said Ronald Stafford had fondled the breast areas of one or both girls and had taken one of them into the woods for an hour.

Dougal also testified that Ronald Stafford said his brother and Geer had pinched the girls in the buttocks and grabbed their legs.

Ronald Stafford's attorney denied that his client had molested the girls. Although Ronald Stafford has a juvenile record for sexual assault, his attorney said it was only for stabbing a boy in the buttocks with a needle.

The FBI would not comment on possible motives for the kidnapping.

But Dougal testified that Ronald Stafford told him the three men had planned the abduction for two weeks because they suspected abuse on the part of the girls' father. The father, Jesse Hainer, said he had known Stafford for more than a year but later told him to keep away from the girls.

Ronald Stafford and Geer were denied bond Wednesday. Lee Stafford had a bond hearing as well but his records were sealed because he is a minor. The three suspects may not be returned to Michigan for up to a month while federal authorities process their extradition.

Leung--who did not know at the time whether the girls had been abused--said she viewed the incident and the capture of the three men with some sadness.

"We knew they had done the wrong thing, but after they had been so open with us and they had basically trusted us, and we had invited them over for dinner, we did feel kind of a sense of betrayal," she said. "We didn't want to give them a bad impression of Christianity because we turned them in."

Leung added: "We wanted to make it clear that we condemn what they did but we don't condemn them. We're hoping God uses this event in their lives to change their perspectives."

Leung, a concentrator in East Asian studies, lives in Burlingame, Calif. She is considering pursuing a career in non-profit community service or education and plans to study for a year in China and also to work as a fellowship staff member at Harvard for a year following graduation.

--Material from The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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