Father reunited with children missing for nearly a year says they are ‘still in shock’
A father who found his two missing children after nearly a year says his estranged wife, accused of kidnapping, stopped them from going to school and limited their contact so they wouldn’t be found.
The children, ages 11 and 12, were reported missing in Missouri on March 15 and were found in a Florida grocery store last week.
“My kids were missing. I didn’t know where they were. … It’s the greatest fear in the world,” Blake Gilley, 38, said Monday afternoon in an exclusive interview. say I was terrified and panicked.”
Gilley said the children told her they hadn’t been to school since their disappearance and avoided detection by moving from one rural Airbnb to another in several states.
The children were found Wednesday at a Winn-Dixie in High Springs, Fla., with their non-custodial mother, Kristi Nicole Gilley.
The 36-year-old woman was arrested on an active kidnapping warrant in Clay County, Missouri, police said. Officers located the children after a routine check of the tags on Gilley’s vehicle, which indicated the owner of the vehicle was a fugitive, police said.
The three have been identified, although they concealed their identities. It was not immediately clear how exactly their identities were disguised.
“These children and their abductor were traveling through the area and had no residential ties to Alachua County, Florida, and were not enrolled in any school,” Florida police said in a statement Monday.
The family was “en route to an Airbnb just outside of our area,” High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard said.
Airbnb did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Blake Gilley, from Texas, said he found his children on Friday and they told him their mother had tried to keep them indoors, but when they were out in public they had to avoid talking with them. people, especially the boy who is non-verbal and has Down syndrome.
He said his kids told him that “Kristi would never tell them what town they were in or anything. If they were in a car, they had to keep their heads down. My son always does that.”
Blake Gilley said the children said their mother asked them not to talk or look anyone in the eye. He said that because of this, his son will “look at the ground. He’s better now. I was like, ‘Hey, you’re good, mate, look up.'”
Kristi Gilley was listed as being held Monday afternoon in the Alachua County Jail.
Her attorney Maurice McDaniel said Monday night that she would fight extradition to Missouri because she wants to become a resident of Florida.
McDaniel said he spoke to Kristi Gilley for an hour in jail on Friday and denied allegations that she hid her children while moving from one Airbnb to another. He also said the mother did not tell him that she had asked her children to limit their interactions with others.
Florida County Court documents show Gilley pleaded not guilty and was being held without bond on Thursday. A representative for the Alachua County Clerk said no further court date has been set.
Blake Gilley said the couple divorced in 2016 and Kristi Gilley disappeared last year before a custody dispute could be resolved.
A probable cause statement from Clay County, Missouri said the couple had a joint custody agreement in Randall County, Texas by April 14, 2022.
But the father was awarded sole custody after Kristi Gilley failed to show up in court, according to court documents. At one point, she was living with her sister and the children, in Liberty, Missouri, in the Kansas City area, according to the report.
“Kristi had been making it increasingly difficult for Blake to visit or talk to the children for some time, and had refused to let Blake visit or talk to the children at all, since 03/15/2022,” the report said. of the court. .
The report says authorities checked on the children and mother at a grandparent’s home in Chico, Calif., where they discovered the grandparent no longer lived there.
An attorney for Kristi Gilley said the mother would no longer cooperate with Clay County Court because she believed she was being denied due process, according to the report, which added that the children were safe and in school at home, according to the lawyer.
A parental abduction warrant was filed for Kristi Gilley on July 13, 2022.
Blake Gilley said his children were not hurt physically, but emotionally: “They are still in shock. You can see that bothers them.
He hopes his children will receive guidance and return to school: “To give them a fighting chance in life.”
The police deserve a lot of credit for finding his children, he said.
“They worked hard,” Gilley said.