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Missing girls return to Michigan after tip from college students

March 26, 1997

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) _ Hours after eating dinner with three men and two young girls, some college students vacationing in Daytona Beach, Fla., saw pictures of the children flash on the television screen.

They had just shared a table with three men accused of kidnapping Teresa Hainer, 9, and her 6-year-old sister, Jessica, from their tiny Michigan hometown of Galesburg.

``It shocked all of us,″ said Harvard student Loh-Sze Leung, 21. ``It all seemed to fit together. The names matched, the car matched, the description matched.″

The students immediately called authorities, who had received reports of other sightings in Florida.

One of the men, Ronald Stafford, the girls’ former baby sitter, said ``they were planning on staying in Florida for the rest of their lives,″ student Richard Conway recalled.

The girls were rescued by police Tuesday morning, ending a four-day nationwide search. They returned to Michigan as dozens of people applauded and yelled, ``Welcome home.″

``You didn’t get a tan. What happened?″ grandmother Olivia Hainer joked as she hugged the girls after they arrived by private plane at the Kalamazoo airport.

The girls said nothing and struggled to keep their souvenir law-enforcement hats on as relatives embraced them. Medical tests were planned for the girls, but, ``we’re told by agents at the scene they’re none the worse for wear,″ said Joe Martinolich, head of the FBI in Michigan.

The FBI says the odyssey of Jessica and Teresa started in tears Friday as they stepped off a school bus and reluctantly entered a car driven by Stafford, their former sitter with a juvenile record for sexual assault.

It finally ended at a Daytona Beach gift shop, where police arrested the men without a struggle.

Federal kidnapping charges have been filed against Stafford, 21, his brother Lee Stafford, who turns 18 next week, and Ricky Geer, 19.

The girls’ father, Jesse Hainer, 33, has custody of his daughters. His ex-wife, also named Teresa, is talking about challenging that custody in court.

``This was half his fault,″ she told The Detroit News. ``He was told to stay away from the Staffords a while ago.″

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