Missing sisters found safe two years after disappearing mid-custody dispute

Samantha and Gianna Rucki ran away from home in 2013 after a judge granted their father with full custody, even after the sisters accused him of verbal and physical abuse.

Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP
A police car is driven into a garage, Wednesday in Herman, Minn., near where authorities located two teenage sisters from Lakeville who have been missing for more than two years. The girls, Gianna and Samantha Rucki, now 16 and 17 years old respectively, hadn't been seen in public since April 2013 after disappearing in a custody dispute, were found at a horse farm in western Minnesota after police executed a search warrant, Lakeville police Lt. Jason Polinski told the Star Tribune.

Two sisters were found safe on a Minnesota horse ranch Wednesday after disappearing in April 2013.

Samantha and Gianna Rucki, now 17 and 16 respectively, ran away from their Lakeville home in 2013 after a judge granted sole parental custody to their father.

Police obtained a search warrant for White Horse Ranch after retrieving evidence from the search of Dede Evavold’s home in St. Cloud. Ms. Evavold is a known supporter of the “Protective Parent” movement that believes family courts are ineffective and often award custody to abusive parents.  

White Horse Ranch is a nonprofit 160 miles west of the Twin Cities that uses equine therapy to help abused children heal. The ranch’s website describes itself as a place where “Broken children and hurting horses are able to bring each other to a place of healing through God’s unconditional love,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. (The White Horse Ranch website has since been taken off line.)

Children don’t live at the ranch, but authorities believe the farm’s owners, Gina and Doug Dahlen, were hiding the sisters.

“Both Samantha and Gianna were found safe and in seemingly good health at the residence where the Search Warrant was executed,” Lakeville police said in a statement Wednesday. “The sisters will return to Dakota County where the unification process can begin.”

A Dakota County judge awarded David Rucki, the girls’ father, full custody in November 2013, despite both Samantha and Gianna Rucki accusing their father of abuse. The judge said their abuse accusations were incredible, as a psychologist concluded that the girls’ mother Sandra Grazzini-Rucki had brainwashed the girls. Mr. Rucki has denied ever abusing his daughters.

Lakeville police have accused Ms. Grazzini-Rucki of helping her daughters escape. The mother’s attorney confirms that Granzzini-Rucki did not want her daughters found, but in an April interview, Granzzini-Rucki denies any involvement with her daughter’s disappearance. 

Granzzini-Rucki was arrested on Oct. 18 and charged with three counts of felony deprivation of parental rights and alleged involvement with Samantha and Gianna’s disappearance. 

“I am in disbelief,” Granzzini-Rucki’s lawyer Michelle MacDonald told the Star-Tribune. “I hope [the girls] are reunited with their mother and brothers and sister, and even their father.”

Police are also examining Ms. MacDonald as a possible suspect after the evidence was found in Evavold’s home. Evavold was the campaign manager for MacDonald’s 2014 bid for Minnesota Supreme Court, but MacDonald denies any knowledge of Evavold’s involvement with the sisters’ disappearance. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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