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FBI: Kidnapped girls found safe; three men in custody

March 25, 1997

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) _ Two little girls missing since they walked off their school bus last week and got into a car were found today in Florida, apparently unharmed.

The three men with them were arrested without a struggle on kidnapping charges, the FBI said.

Jessica Hainer, 6, and Teresa Hainer, 9, were found about midmorning in Daytona Beach, Fla., the FBI said. They were sent for medical examinations as a precaution and would probably return home to Galesburg on Wednesday, authorities said.

``It’s the happiest news we ever had,″ the girls’ grandmother, Olivia Hainer, said at a news conference attended by FBI and sheriff’s officials.

Daytona Beach police said a tourist called late Monday and reported seeing the girls, and today the suspects’ station wagon was found in the downtown area.

Police then spotted all five walking into a nearby gift shop and the men were arrested without a struggle, said Joe Martinolich, the FBI’s chief agent in Michigan.

The girls had been spotted in Florida as early as Sunday. And authorities had felt since Monday that they were ``closing the ring″ around the group, Martinolich said at the news conference.

The three men, Ricky Geer, 19, and brothers Ronald Stafford, 21, and Lee Stafford, 17, were expected to appear in court later today, Martinolich said.

The Staffords know the sisters and their father, Jesse Hainer, but authorities would not discuss a motive.

The girls had gotten off their school bus Friday about three miles from their home, and the bus driver saw them get into a car with three men.

Authorities have repeatedly refused to comment on why the girls got off the bus so far from home.

``It was not a proper exchange and not a voluntary exchange,″ Sheriff Thomas Edmonds said. He would not elaborate.

Before today’s arrests, the FBI had said the trio should be considered armed and dangerous.

Geer’s mother, Christine Geer, said today: ``I’m relieved that they were all taken alive and the girls are safe.″

``I really want to talk to my son. I want to know why he did this,″ Mrs. Geer said.

The group had been spotted Sunday by off-duty University of Florida police Sgt. Mitchal Welsh, who struck up a conversation with them at a car wash in Gainesville, Fla.

Welsh didn’t know then about the Michigan kidnapping but was suspicious when the men talked about being on spring break. He had relatives who lived hear Galesburg and knew they hadn’t had spring break yet, he said.

``Without proper knowledge of the kidnapping, I couldn’t go further in my questioning,″ he told The Gainesville Sun.

The officer realized hours later they were wanted in Michigan.

Court records show Ronald Stafford spent three years in an adolescent sex-offender program.

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