MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The cross-country hunt for three missing children is over. Authorities found the siblings from Tennessee in northern Minnesota early Friday morning. They disappeared with their mother and father three days ago.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Friday morning that 6-year-old Analia Essex, 2-year-old Abigail Christian, and 1-year-old Michale Christian were located in Cass County.

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The parents — 25-year-old Amanda Essex and 48-year-old Michale Darrel Christian — don’t have custody.

One clue that helped investigators track them was surveillance video obtained by WCCO. It shows their father stopping in a Twin Cities gas station this week.

(credit: Crystal Police Dept.)

The big break in the case came from that sighting in Crystal. A couple was driving though town Thursday when they noticed an out-of-state license plate and it it triggered a memory, something they had seen on the news. So they googled the case. When they saw the photos, they looked in the back of the SUV and realized something wasn’t right.

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BCA agents confirmed that the vehicle was in a wooded area on a property near Motley, Minnesota.

Essex and Christian are currently being held at Crow Wing County Jail awaiting extradition to Tennessee. Meanwhile, the children are safe and authorities are working to return them to Tennessee.

As the director of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, Alison Feigh says this case is fairly common. There are more than 233,000 abductions by family members each year in the U.S.

“A family abduction is a crime. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, because we’ve had abduction cases over the years … of kids who have been very, very seriously harmed by their parents,” Feigh said. “We know that there’s power in getting those faces out to the public.”

Feigh says this case is good example of people in the public paying close attention so officers could close in.

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Investigators thanked the public for their help in finding the children.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield