The runaway Lakeville sisters who had been missing for two and a half years will be sent to an intensive out-of-state reunification program after a Dakota County judge pulled them out of foster care Monday.

The program aims to overcome the resistance of Gianna and Samantha Rucki to moving back in with their father, whom they still refuse to live with, less than two weeks after they were discovered on a western Minnesota horse farm.

Saying the girls’ “life has become a circus,” Judge Michael Mayer had to choose among three competing arguments of where Gianna, 16, and Samantha, 17, should go. Dakota County child protection thought they should stay in foster care. The couple who kept the runaway teens at the White Horse Ranch filed a petition on Monday saying the girls were best off with them.

“We love the children and believe we can provide them the best environment under these current circumstances,” Doug and Gina Dahlen wrote in their motion.

Before the girls ran away in April 2013, the teens repeatedly accused their father of abuse, but a court-appointed psychologist concluded that their mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, had brainwashed them. Their father, David Rucki, was granted full custody of the children in November 2013 after a judge ruled that there was no credible evidence that the girls were abused.

Case gone ‘massively awry’

Dakota County child protection placed the girls in a foster care home a few days after they were found and on Monday asked a judge to keep them there. The county argued that the girls were likely to flee again and needed to be in a safe and stable environment after refusing to live with their father. An attorney for the girls said they promised not to run away if they were allowed to remain in foster care.

David Rucki objected, saying he is willing and able to care for the girls. The judge agreed, saying he had no jurisdiction to keep them under the county’s supervision.

“I think I have a family law case that has gone massively awry,” he said.

Mayer’s decision gave full parental rights back to Rucki, who said he will put them in a reunification program. At the hearing, Mayer said he agreed with sending them to the program, which he described as lasting six to eight hours a day for about six to 10 weeks.

“The girls have indicated to me that they would run,” Mayer said. “I can’t make them like their parents again. I can’t make them love their parents again. But … I can give them the tools to make that happen.”

Rucki said after the hearing that he was “elated” by Mayer’s decision.

“I’m going to try to move forward now and get the girls the help they need,” he said.

Rucki said he was working on a plan to ensure the girls would not run away while being transported to the reunification program.

Mom faces felony counts

The girls’ mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, faces six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights, after Dakota County prosecutors alleged that she and another woman left the girls at the White Horse Ranch four days after they ran away.

In a child protection petition filed last week, a Dakota County social worker said the girls told them that they were home-schooled and assisted with chores on the farm the last two years. One of the girls “reported not having any contact with their mother ‘in years’ and assumed she was incarcerated.”

In their petition asking to intervene in that case, the Dahlens wrote that when the girls arrived, they had “extreme personal fear, there was reasonable belief that they had been emotionally threatened with their life and physically abused.”

Over the next two and a half years, the Dahlens wrote, they helped the girls overcome some of their fears and grew to love the girls.

“We have provided the children with a home and shelter and all the necessities of life including food, clothing, health care, education, religious upbringing, love, support and companionship,” the Dahlens wrote.

“The children developed friendships here and were a part of this community. The children have their ranch pets they have connected with and it has been therapeutic for them. The children indicated they wanted to stay at the ranch home.”

The judge’s ruling effectively shut down that effort. Mayer noted that there were “ongoing criminal investigations” against the Dahlens. Outside the courtroom, the Dahlens declined to comment.