PONCHATOULA, La. — Two missing children from Louisiana were found safe in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, and authorities are searching for the boys’ biological mother, who is a suspect in their disappearance, authorities said.
Kaesyn Heck, 8, and Jax Matthews, 4, of Ponchatoula, were found in a vehicle just outside Milton, Florida, at around 2:30 p.m. CT, Chief James Travis of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office said at a news conference.
Travis said the boys’ biological mother, Shawntel Heck, 38, fled on foot in a wooded area and has not been apprehended, WVUE reported. Travis added that the boys were in good condition physically.
“They were able to locate the children but the female fled on foot. They’re still searching for her,” Travis said. “The children are currently in protective custody. They appear to be safe and fine.”
Travis said Shawntel Heck faces a charge of simple kidnapping and unauthorized use of a vehicle, WDSU reported. Both are felonies.
Heck had ties to Florida, authorities said. Her Facebook page lists her hometown as East Milton, Florida.
An Amber Alert was issued for the two children early Wednesday, WAFB reported.
Deputies said the boys’ father left them in his maroon 2013 Hyundai Elantra momentarily Tuesday afternoon while he went to retrieve a tool from the shed located in the back of his home, WSDU reported.
Travis confirmed that a good Samaritan picked up Shawntel Heck, who was stranded on the side of the road, WDSU reported. She asked to be taken to the father’s home. Travis said Shawntel Heck stole the car with the children inside, the television station reported.
Travis said the father originally did not know who abducted the boys, but a witness was able to identify Shawntel Heck, and the FBI contacted the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, WWL reported.
Deputies there spotted the stolen car and found Heck with the boys nearby, WVUE reported. She fled into a nearby wooded area while they were focused on the children, the television station reported.
“This is still fluid in Florida because they don’t have her in custody yet,” Travis said. “There is a search going on to take her into custody.”
The children will remain in custody until their father can travel to Florida to pick them up, the sheriff said.