The mom of two teen girls who went missing for 11 months is accused of kidnapping them with help from a female lover, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reports. Cindy Fortner, 46, wept heavily at an arraignment Friday in New York state when she pleaded not guilty to second-degree kidnapping. A few feet away, Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell accused Fortner of kidnapping her daughters—Shaeleen Fortner, then 13, and Kylea Fortner, then 15—on April 27, 2015, before a school bus could take them to their foster home. The DA is also accusing 29-year-old Amanda Hellman, apparently Fortner's lover, of being an accomplice. The girls were found living in Hellman's home in Vestal, NY, a half-mile from the police department.
"They didn't seem to be under duress at all, they seemed comfortable with the arrangement ... they'd go prancing down the street," says a Hellman neighbor. "We had no inkling about it being an abduction." But the legal question is whether Fortner and Hellmann had authority to keep the girls, Cornell says. "The girls cannot consent, as a matter of law, to be with them," he explains. "Not every kidnapping involves a stranger in a van with tinted windows, who's chaining people to the wall." Officials won't say why Fortner lost custody of her girls in the first place, the New York Daily News reports, but Cornell dropped a possible hint: "The case is not closed," he says. "We're certainly not done investigating the case. ... [T]here's a nexus between this case and the heroin epidemic."