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Search for Missing Amish Girls Complicated by Cultural Barriers

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In the search for two missing Amish girls, authorities in upstate New York face barriers unlike any other they have encountered before, including the fact that they don't have photographs of the two girls.

The family of Delila Miller, 6, and Fannie Miller, 12, agreed to work with a sketch artist on an image of the elder child, providing a vital tool to investigators because Amish religious beliefs preclude taking photographs.

"It's a belief within the Amish community, so we did really well to get this sketch," St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells said.

He added that it was the family's decision to not have an artist's rendering of their younger girl.

Another barrier has been that the family speaks mainly Pennsylvania Dutch, the traditional language of the Amish, authorities said. The girls have heavy accents, though the 12-year-old speaks English, Wells told the local ABC News affiliate.

The girls went to wait on a customer at the family's roadside stand Wednesday night in Oswegatchie, a rural town located near the Canadian border. Police said a witness saw a vehicle put something in the backseat. When the car drove away, the witness told police the children were gone.

Wells said it was "a very short period of time" between when the family realized the girls were missing and when authorities were notified.

He said police were alerted from a call made at an English-speaking residence that owns a telephone. Amish families do not have modern conveniences such as telephones, let alone cellphones.

Both girls were last seen wearing dark blue dresses with blue aprons and black bonnets, authorities said.

Despite the cultural differences, Wells said the community has been rallying together to help search for the missing girls.

"This is something that's against what we all believe in," he said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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