Teenage sisters missing for more than two years found on horse farm in western Minnesota
HERMAN - Two Lakeville teenage sisters missing since April 2013 have been found at a horse farm in western Minnesota, according to Lakeville police. Gianna Rucki, now 16, and Samantha Rucki, now 17, who ran away more than 31 months ago as family ...
HERMAN - Two Lakeville teenage sisters missing since April 2013 have been found at a horse farm in western Minnesota, according to Lakeville police.
Gianna Rucki, now 16, and Samantha Rucki, now 17, who ran away more than 31 months ago as family turmoil set in, were found Wednesday at the White Horse Ranch near Herman, about 40 miles west of Alexandria in Grant County.
The Lakeville police said in a release late Wednesday afternoon that they executed a search warrant at the farm, which described itself as a place where abused children and horses can come together to heal.
The police officers were assisted by U.S. marshals and Grant County Sheriff Dwight Walvatne.
Both of the girls were found “safe and in seemingly good health.” the release said.
“They were in good shape. Oh my gosh, yes,” Walvatne said.
The sheriff said the founder and president of the ranch operation -- Gina Dahlen along with her husband Doug, -- were cooperative when law officers arrived.
The sisters were returned to Dakota County where the “unification process” can begin, Lakeville police said. The police and the Dakota County Attorney’s Office asked for respect and privacy for the Rucki family during the reunification process.
The department called the investigation into how the girls got to the farm “very active and fluid.”Walvatne said no one was taken into custody at the ranch.
“We’ll have the county attorney look into it. It’s so early in the investigation,” the sheriff said.
Lakeville detectives, however, have said they learned a network of people had taken the girls and kept them in hiding. The police had made a list of “persons of interest” in the case.
Already facing charges and in the Dakota County workhouse held on $1 million bail is the girls’ mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, who police say helped them get away from their father.
The father, Dave Rucki, had been granted full custody of the two girls, who are now 16 and 17 years old, along with the couple’s three other children in November 2013.
That bitter custody battle started the family chaos with Grazzini-Rucki saying the father abused the children, but a psychologist later determined Grazzini-Rucki had brainwashed the two girls.
Rucki has denied abusing his children and a judge agreed.
Police obtained an arrest warrant in August for Grazzini-Rucki, who was living in Florida. She was charged in Dakota County with three counts of felony deprivation of parental rights.
When the two girls disappeared April 19, 2013, they had been ordered by a judge to live with an aunt on the father’s side of the family.
The aunt said that about 10 minutes after arriving at her home, the girls left without their shoes or any of their belongings. The aunt immediately called the girls’ mother, but Grazzini-Rucki’s phone was turned off.
A month later, the girls appeared in an interview on KMSP-TV in Minneapolis and have not been seen or heard from since.
In May, Lakeville Police Chief Jeff Long wrote in a blog post in the city’s newsletter, “Having been a cop for 26 years, I have never seen anything like the obstruction, chaos and questionable decision-making I have seen in this case. It’s sad to me that two girls have lost their childhood. My guess is both Gianna and Samantha have no idea how much they are missed by their family and friends. They will never get this time back,” he said.
Walvatne said the entire saga is “quite a story.”
He was sure it was a relief for the family, and he also witnessed the relief the Lakeville investigators felt when they found the girls safe.
“They’ve been working on this a long time,” the sheriff said. “And it’s going to take a lot longer to get all of the statements and get this figured out.”
Lisa Elliott, an attorney for the girls’ father, called Wednesday’s developments “a huge relief.”
“One of the words that David used with me was ‘anti-climatic,’ ” she said. “Yes, it’s a huge sigh of relief, but he knows there’s a lot of work ahead of them as far as getting the girls the help they need and trying to figure out where they have been the last 2½ years and how they got there.”
Elliott said Rucki was focused Wednesday night on seeing Samantha and Gianna “and getting them the help they need to get back to a normal life.”
On a website, the White Horse Ranch described its purpose as “a Christ-centered horse ranch where children and families can experiences healing and wholeness through animals and the grace of God's love. Our passion is to invest in children and their families of all backgrounds; pairing a child and a horse, along with a mentor. In a safe environment the children are encouraged to trust and love again! Our desire is to demonstrate the love of Christ through our faith and actions.”
The ranch is not associated with any particular religious congregation.
By Barry Amundson, Forum News Service.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this report.