"Malnourished" teenage twins who said they escaped from handcuffs at their Texas home Tuesday set off an Amber Alert for five other siblings, ages 7 to 14, who were determined to be safe a day later in Louisiana, officials said.
Jeff McShan, the spokesman for Harris County Constable Precinct 5, said the incident began when the 16-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, contacted a neighbor and asked to call 911 because they had escaped from their home, where they “had been handcuffed and held against their will by their mom.”
The siblings said they had only recently moved to the home and didn’t know their address, McShan said.
“It was obvious to us and the fire department that the children were in distress. They had marks on their wrists, pretty deep marks from the handcuffs. They were bruised and malnourished in our eyes,” he said.
The twins were hospitalized and are in the custody of Child Protective Services, NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston reported.
McShan said it took authorities several hours to determine which house the twins had fled. When they arrived, the children’s mother, Zaikiya Duncan, 40, and her boyfriend, Jova Terrell, 27, appeared to have left with Duncan’s five other children, McShan said.
"The children were found at a relative’s house and have been deemed safe by the Louisiana State Police. Their mother and mom’s boyfriend are in custody and will be brought back to Harris County," the constable’s office said.
The agency said it is recommending that Duncan and Terrell be charged with injury to a child, a first-degree felony. It also said the children's 18-year-old brother may also be missing. His whereabouts were unclear Wednesday.
Duncan and Terrell were arrested after a traffic stop Tuesday afternoon, Louisiana State Police said Wednesday. They had been fugitives from Harris County, the agency said. A juvenile was in the car with the couple, state police said. Five other children who were dropped off at a relative's house near Baton Rouge were later identified and accounted for, police said.
McShan said he expects the couple to return to Texas this week to face charges. It was not clear Wednesday whether they had retained an attorney.
Duncan was listed as being an inmate on a charge of being a fugitive at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Wednesday afternoon. Terrell was not listed as an inmate there.
Relatives of Duncan and Terrell could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
CORRECTION (Oct. 21, 2022, 12:11 p.m. ET) A previous version of this article misstated the day the twins escaped from their home. They escaped Tuesday, not Monday. The article also misstated the twins’ age. They are 15, not 16.