FARGO — It's been almost five years since two Fargo girls were kidnapped by their mother and taken about 350 miles away to a northwest South Dakota Indian Reservation.
However, the fathers who live here still aren't giving up.
Two new twists in the case have developed over the summer as fathers Aarin Nygaard and Terrance Stanley and their families still hold out hope that some day the girls will be back with them.
One new development is the hiring of a high-powered attorney to take the case to federal court in South Dakota, as the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation tribal court and the South Dakota Tribal Appellate Court both denied returning the children to their fathers.
Marty Jackley, who served as the South Dakota attorney general for 10 years and was also a U.S Attorney in South Dakota, hopes to get a court date soon as they attempt to take temporary custody away from mother Tricia Taylor's half sister, Jessica Ducheneaux, who lives in Timber Lake with the girls and other children.
She was granted temporary custody by the reservation's tribal court.
Jackley said in a phone interview this past week that he hopes to file the custody case within the next month in federal court in Pierre, although where the case is heard could change.
"The driving factor in why I took the case is that it involves children," he said. "If I can make a difference to right a wrong, I want to be a part of it."
He said it's a "high priority" for him as the case reaches its fifth year.
Meanwhile, Taylor, who has been convicted of parental kidnapping in district court in Fargo, removed her GPS ankle bracelet almost two years ago after she was released from prison. While on an approved trip to Bismarck, she fled again to the reservation where she grew up and where most of her family lives. She is wanted in North Dakota for violating her parole after she served time in both the Cass County Jail and in state prison on the kidnapping charge.
Pleas by the Nygaard family to have Taylor arrested on the reservation or to have authorities bring the girls back have gone nowhere over the years, according to family spokesman Michael Nygaard, who is a great uncle to Cheyienna Nygaard and an uncle to her father, Aarin Nygard. The baby was kidnapped when she was only 18 months old and Michael Nygaard said she is now 6 years old and would not even recognize her real father or grandparents, who also live in Fargo. The other girl is Stanley's daughter, Tatelyn, who is now 11.
Michael Nygaard said they believe that Taylor no longer lives with either of her two daughters. He said Taylor has since remarried and has had another baby on the reservation and lives in Isabel, about 20 miles away from Timber Lake.
In the other bizarre twist to the seemingly never-ending struggle for the families, Michael Nygaard said they have learned that Taylor's brother, 34-year-old Theodore Taylor, with whom the girls were first left five years ago when she fled to the reservation, has been arrested on charges of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, assault with a dangerous weapon and child abuse.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury last May and entered a not guilty plea in June. He is facing life in prison.
The indictment alleges that between Jan. 1, 2013, and Aug. 31, 2016, Taylor engaged in and attempted to engage in sexual acts with a child under 12 years of age.
He also is charged with assaulting the same minor with a Taser between Nov. 16, 2014, and Nov. 15, 2015. The FBI is investigating the case, with the U.S. Attorney's office in South Dakota prosecuting Taylor.
He was released on bond. A trial date has been set for Aug. 13.
Michael Nygaard said the family doesn't think that their children are the victims in the case as the timing doesn't seem to match up.
"But the thing is the girls were left with someone who could be a child molester," Nygaard said.
Adding to that part of the story is that Tricia Taylor accused Aarin Nygaard of molesting one of the girls more than five years ago. After authorities didn't believe Taylor's allegations and prosecutors didn't have any evidence to prosecute Nygaard, she fled with the girls during a visitation time with them. The fathers at that time had already been granted custody and a court order was in place that Cheyienna was not to leave the state with either parent.
Nygaard said Tricia Taylor fled right after a hair follicle test on Cheyienna came back positive for meth and Taylor was told to come for a further drug test.
Taylor was arrested by the FBI on the reservation shortly after she fled with the girls, and she was returned to Fargo on the parental kidnapping charge, but the federal officers didn't take the girls with them.
That's a sore point with the families, too.
However, although a reunification with the girls would be difficult after all of these years, according to experts, it may still happen. It appears that the federal court case to be filed by Jackley is indeed that next best hope for the families.
Although the tribal court repeatedly canceled hearings and ruled that the girls should stay on the reservation, there was a different outcome in April of last year when a tribal judge from a neighboring reservation — the Standing Rock Indian Reservation — ordered the girls to be returned after the judge was called in by the Cheyenne River tribe to hear the case again. In that April 18, 2018, ruling, Judge Erin Stanley said the girls should be returned to their fathers and the Fargo families thought the jurisdictional battle between the tribal courts which has argued it's a sovereign nation and the state of North Dakota court system was over.
However, the next day Ducheneaux filed an appeal with the Native American Tribal Appeals Court, which last September allowed her to retain temporary custody.
So now it heads to the U.S. federal court system.
Meanwhile, more than 1,800 days since the girls were kidnapped, their fathers and families aren't giving up.
"We've spent well over $150,000 on lawyer fees and traveling," said Michael Nygaard. "Just think of what we could have done for those two girls with all of that money."
The story of the family can be found at a Facebook page at facebook.com/csntrs, which are the letters of the girls' names.