Months of interviews, chasing leads and executing search warrants led police on Oct. 21 to their biggest break in their effort to find two teenage runaways, Gianna and Samantha Rucki.

A search of the St. Cloud home of Deirdre Evavold, a friend of the girls' mother, uncovered two pictures on her iPhone, according to court records. The first was a street sign at an intersection, the second of Samantha hugging a donkey.

Police determined that the photos were taken in April and June 2013 at the White Horse Ranch near Herman, Minn., only a short time after the girls ran away from their Lakeville home in the midst of a custody dispute. The sisters were at the ranch when Lakeville police, U.S. marshals and Grant County deputies arrived Nov. 18.

On Friday, Evavold and the owners of the ranch, Doug and Gina Dahlen, were each charged with two felony counts of parental deprivation for their alleged role in hiding the girls.

Investigators believe Evavold and the girls' mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, brought the sisters to the ranch, where they lived undetected for 2½ years.

Grazzini-Rucki already faces six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights.

Evavold could not be reached for comment Friday. Doug Dahlen declined to comment.

The Dahlens and Evavold are being summoned to court to face the charges. The Dakota County attorney's office said the first appearances will likely take place next month.

In a court filing last month, the Dahlens acknowledged that the girls had lived at the ranch since April 2013.

Police used Gina Dahlen's Facebook page to confirm that the photos found on Evavold's phone were taken at the White Horse Ranch, according to the criminal charges.

Evavold is a critic of the family courts and has been associated with a group of like-minded people in the state, which appears to be how she met the Dahlens. During a search of Evavold's computer, police found a 2012 document addressed to Evavold from Doug Dahlen, seeking help in a divorce he had been going through since 2008.

Police found other evidence suggesting Evavold was involved in hiding the girls, according to the charges. Her iPhone had voice memos made on April 21, 2013, of the girls explaining why they ran away. At a search of another home, police found e-mails sent by Evavold with letters signed by the girls two days after they ran away.

Evavold was the campaign manager for attorney Michelle MacDonald when MacDonald ran unsuccessfully for the state Supreme Court last year. MacDonald is herself a critic of the family courts and is serving as Grazzini-Rucki's attorney, and has previously been called a "person of interest" in the case by Lakeville police.

The Rucki sisters, now 16 and 17, were sent to an out-of-state reunification therapy program earlier this month. Their father, David Rucki, declined to comment. His attorney, Lisa Elliott, said reunification therapy "is going very well."

Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626