The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children last week honored Prince William County police investigator J.G. Kuehn for his efforts in finding two children abducted by their father and missing for nearly two years.

In February 1985, then 18-month-old Kristine Sauter, who needed open-heart surgery by September 1986, and her 2-year-old sister, Jennifer, disappeared.

Their father, John Dennis Sauter, was charged with abducting both children and later convicted.

John Sauter and his wife Kim of Triangle were in the process of separating and a Prince William County judge had given Kim Sauter temporary custody of the children.

At the time of the ruling, the children were with their father.

For nearly two years, Kim Sauter said, she had no idea where Kristine and Jennifer were. A few times she "gave up hope," Sauter said. "But he {Kuehn} reassured me that I would have them back somehow."

Despite the lack of movement on the case, Kuehn "was very creative and willing to go the extra mile," said Charles Pickett, technical adviser to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Finally, after the center placed a picture of one of the children at the end of a network television movie about a missing child, a breakthrough in the case came.

The search ended after 21 months, just three days before Christmas.

Kristine had received the needed surgery while with her father and was fine.

Kuehn described solving the case as creating a natural high.

He gave the following description of his midnight telephone call to the children's grandmother:

"I wanted to call you and say Merry Christmas," Kuehn said.

"Oh, and I just want to tell you -- I got the kids back."