DECATUR, Ga. – Two young children who police say were kidnapped from the side of an Atlanta-area interstate early Wednesday are safe but authorities are looking for the man who grabbed them and later dropped them off with friends, authorities say.
Three-year-old Jalen Mattison and his 1-year-old sister Amari Mattison were with their mother when their Volvo broke down on Interstate 20, east of Atlanta. The mother, whose name was not released, told investigators that a passer-by offered to help by driving the woman and her children in his Jeep Cherokee to a Shell gas station just off a nearby highway exit, DeKalb County police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said.
When a county officer pulled over to investigate the abandoned vehicle, the mother left her children at the station and walked back to her broken-down car, Parish said. By the time she returned to the gas station, her children were gone and an intensive search began.
The suspect very soon after took the children to the home of two women, who say they only know him by his nickname, which investigators declined to make public.
The women, who were not named, said they thought they were babysitting. They say they didn't realize what was happening until they saw media reports about the abduction in the afternoon and then contacted police at a local courthouse and turned over the children.
The women were being questioned Wednesday afternoon but do not face charges.
"We do not believe that they knew the kids had been kidnapped," Parish said.
Amin Madhani, who manages the Shell station, said detectives reviewed a station surveillance tape that showed a man in a Jeep Cherokee arriving at 1:09 a.m. and parking near a pump for roughly 15 minutes before driving off. Madhani said the detectives who examined the tape saw no sign of the missing children.
The mother told police that the man was black, roughly 6 feet tall and thin and was driving a green Cherokee.
The children and their mother were taken to the police station, but it was not clear whether they have been reunited.
Parish said DeKalb detectives contacted Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services as they learned more about the family.
Parish would not explain why police contacted the child welfare agency, which investigates abused and neglected children and provides support services for troubled families.