Woman arrested; kids returned to mother

August 7, 2008 8:21:06 PM PDT
Eyewitness News has learned the biological mother of the five children involved in a kidnapping incident was reunited with her children Thursday night. The mother's attorney says she must remain in the Houston area in order to stay with them.Meanwhile the woman accused of kidnapping the children is now behind bars. She was arrested Thursday afternoon after a statewide manhunt. We were the first to break the story here on abc13.com.

Rhonda Tavey, 44, is accused of taking five children who were not hers and refusing to give them back to their mother. She says it's not kidnapping at all, but a case of abandonment.

On Wednesday, there was an all out search for Tavey and the five children, ranging in ages from three to eight. Tavey opened up her home to the children and their mother who came from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Now, Tavey's facing serious charges, accused of kidnapping the children.

"We are very pleased the children have been returned, that they are safe and healthy," said Assistant Harris County District Attorney Donna Hawkins. "And that was our main goal in the Amber Alert."

Almost exactly 24 hours after authorities issued the Amber Alert for the five missing kids, the FBI arrested Tavey. It happened as Tavey was washing clothes at her grandmother's home on Northline near Little York in north Houston.

She was brought out of the home in handcuffs and looked at our cameras briefly before she was put in the back of a patrol car and driven away.

The children, some of them napping, were taken out and put in car seats.

A few minutes later, Tavey arrived at the Harris County Jail intake center. She sat quietly in the back of a sheriff's department vehicle as cameras surrounded her. Tavey will now face the criminal charges filed against her.

"She's been charged with five counts of kidnapping, a third degree felony," said Hawkins, adding that if convicted, Tavey could face two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Authorities consider the outcome successful, an Amber Alert that ended with the safe return of missing children.

"I think they were really trying all other tools to make this woman let go of these kids and I think they just ran out of things to do," said Beth Alberts with the Texas Centers for the Missing.

Alberts issued the Amber Alert on behalf of the Harris County DA's office.

"What's unique about this case is these children have actually been living with this woman," said Alberts. "An Amber Alert would not have been issued obviously if she had turned them over. These are not her children. She's not biologically related to the any of the kids and the biological mom wants them back."

Tavey is being held without bond because a judge agreed that she's a flight risk. But Tavey's attorney disagrees and says a bond should be granted.

"Right now, there's no bond. We hope to get a reasonable bond tomorrow. There's absolutely no reason she shouldn't get a bond," said Tavey's attorney, Todd Ward. "She has no criminal history, no prior arrests. She's just a great mother."

Tavey is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

Their children's biological' mother, Erica Alphonse, will be interviewed by CPS, as will as each of the children and possibly Tavey.

Tavey has raised allegations of abuse by Alphonse, which will be the focus of their investigation.

"When we take custody of children, we have to show the children would be in immediate risk if they were returned to that parent, so there has to be some significant evidence there would be abuse in that home," said Estella Olguin with CPS. "We can't just take them because someone thinks they can be a better parent than the other."

CPS says their investigation could last as long as 30 days.

"Had this been any other abduction, that would be one thing, but because there have been allegations made that there was possible abuse in that home or that the children would be in danger if returned to the home, we really need to check it out," said Olguin. "But certainly if there is no danger and no evidence of abuse, then there would be no reason the children couldn't go home to their mother."

STORY FROM NOV. '06: Houston woman takes in Katrina evacuees

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