Samantha and Gianna Rucki have moved back into their Lakeville home, readjusting to family life after the teenage sisters went missing for two and a half years, their father said in an interview this week.
There are moments when David Rucki said he sits back and smiles. When he sees his daughters sitting on the couch playing together. When his daughters call him Dad.
“It’s emotional,” he said. “I didn’t ever think I’d get to hear that again.”
But he said the family sometimes struggles as they work to reunite.
“The downside is we’re fighting demons of the past,” Rucki said about Samantha, 17, and Gianna, 16. “For years the kids were led to believe a lot of things that weren’t true.”
The girls ran away on April 18, 2013, in the midst of a bitter divorce between their parents. A court-appointed psychologist concluded that their mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, brainwashed them to believe Rucki was abusive. A judge’s ruling in 2013 concluded there was no credible evidence that Rucki abused the girls and granted him full custody.
But at that time, the girls were living secretly in rural western Minnesota at the White Horse Ranch, run by a family sympathetic to Grazzini-Rucki’s claims that her children were failed by the family court system.
For more than a year, Rucki, 52, a trucking contractor, called Lakeville police weekly and worked with a private investigator to try to find the girls.
U.S. marshals arrested Grazzini-Rucki in October 2015 on a warrant for felony deprivation of parental rights. That month, Lakeville police executed a search warrant and found a photo of one of the girls at the White Horse Ranch, court records allege. In November, local and federal law enforcement found the girls at the ranch and brought them back to the Twin Cities.
The operators of the horse ranch, Doug and Gina Dahlen, have been charged with felony deprivation of parental rights. Dede Evavold, who is accused of driving the girls to the Dahlens’ home, faces the same charge.
The girls then briefly lived in foster care. Before Christmas, the family, including the sisters’ older brother and their two younger siblings, went to a reunification therapy program for a few weeks before going on vacation to Disney World.
Rucki said the girls no longer believe he abused them, and he no longer fears they will run away. That realization came at Disney World, when the girls told him they were going to go to Epcot alone. Rucki said he agreed before thinking about it.
“Then I had that moment where I asked, ‘Is this the right thing?’ ” he said. “But I had to believe and trust in the girls.”
Rucki said his daughters have told him little about their time at the ranch. They said they did chores in the mornings and evenings to stay busy. He said he didn’t know if the sisters had friends while there, but that Amish children their age visited with them at the home.
“They only let it out when they’re ready to let it out,” Rucki said. “I’m not prying. I’m giving them space and respect.”
When they ran away, Gianna and Samantha were enrolled in Lakeville public schools. Rucki said he doesn’t know when they will go back to school. The Dahlens home-schooled the girls, according to court records, which Rucki said has put them behind where they should be academically.
“It’s unaccredited. It’s bunk,” Rucki said.
Rucki said he wants to continue to rebuild his family and trust with his daughters.
“I want to make it home again,” he said. “That’s what is most important to me.”