An off-duty police officer washing his car in Gainesville on Sunday spotted two missing Michigan girls and the three men authorities think abducted them, FBI officials said Monday.
The officer, who did not know authorities were looking for the girls, said he saw Theresa Mae Hainer, 9, and her sister, Jessica Lynn Hainer, 6, with the men, one of them a convicted sex offender, at a car wash near the University of Florida, officials said. When he learned at work on Monday that the girls had been abducted, he immediately notified the FBI.
The sighting was the first confirmed sign that the children had moved far beyond Galesburg, Mich., where they disappeared after stepping off a school bus Friday.
"We're quite tickled over it," their grandmother, Olivia Hainer, said. "As long as we get them back _ that's all we want."
The girls disappeared about noon Friday after a school bus driver dropped them off at a Galesburg mobile-home park, about 3 miles from their Michigan home.
The girls were seen getting into a 1988 Pontiac station wagon with three men inside. Officials have identified the men as Ronald Stafford, 21; brother Lee Stafford, 17; and Rick James Geer, 19.
"They could be anywhere in the state, or they could be out of state," said Tampa FBI spokesman Brian Kensel. "We are looking for them because we want to get these little girls back home."
The Staffords know the sisters and their father, Jesse Hainer, but authorities have declined to discuss a motive.
Ronald Stafford probably has a citizens band radio and uses the moniker "Cookie Monster," FBI agent John Bell said.
The FBI said the trio should be considered armed and dangerous. Authorities also are concerned about Ronald Stafford's background as a convicted sex offender.
In 1990, at 14, he was accused of sexually assaulting two boys under 13, according to Juvenile Court records.
He pleaded guilty in one case in exchange for having the other dropped. Ronald Stafford then spent the next three years in an adolescent sex-offender program, records show.
Authorities think the three men were riding in a cream-colored, 1988 Pontiac 6000 station wagon with wood panels and Michigan license plate: 1AX J93. The license plate is white with blue lettering decorated with a sunset and bridge.
Warrants have been issued for men's arrests, Kensel said.
Stafford is 5 feet 10, 135 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. Geer is 5 feet 10, 160 pounds with brown hair and green eyes.
Jessica and Teresa have blond hair and blue eyes. Jessica was last seen wearing an Esmeralda T-shirt with a pink background, a red and black checkered skirt, black stockings and a black and purple coat.
Teresa was last seen wearing a blue shirt, purple pants and a green coat.
A command post has been established at the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office in Michigan. Anyone with information may call the FBI toll-free at (888) 324-4969.
_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.