HOUSTON - The mother of two boys, ages 2 and 4, who abandoned them at a Boost Mobile store in Houston was found safe on Friday, Houston police said.
Police are not saying where she was found. Investigators are still gathering statements.
"I just opened the store and the woman came in," store manager Muhammad Naeen said. "And she said, 'You want the kids?' I said, 'No.'"
The woman, now known as Ashley, told Naeen she and her sons had been kicked out of their apartment recently and had moved in with a neighbor, but then that neighbor kicked them out, too, Naeen said.
"She was praying to God and she was crying," Naeen said. "The children were crying."
Naeen has replayed the scenario that happened inside his store over and over again.
“I was thinking about the kids. They are so young," Naeem said. ”And she was so depressed and so alone. It’s just so sad for the kids,” he said.
Naeen called police and told the woman to wait, but he said she left before police arrived 30 to 40 minutes later.
"Police, they took too long," he said. "She waited, at first."
Naeen gave a friend some money to buy the children bananas, chips and ice cream. Surveillance video shows the boys eating the food.
Naeen said the woman left her driver's license behind and walked down the street with nothing but the clothes on her back.
Houston police gave the children to Family Protective Services, which released the brothers to a relative late Wednesday.
"They’re both happy, clean and show no signs of abuse or neglect," a spokesman said.
Neighbors at the apartment complex where Ashley lives were shocked to hear the news, saying her unit is always clean and well taken care of.
Friends of Ashley showed KPRC her fully furnished three-bedroom apartment in northwest Houston and said she hasn't been kicked out.
"Her house is always clean," one friend said. "Every now and then, she watches my son for me, and I wouldn't dare give her my son if I felt like she was an unfit mother."
“I know Ashley. She's happy. She's always happy,” said Sylvia Guilliam.
So when Guilliam saw the look on her friend’s face in the cellphone store surveillance video, her heart sank.
“The look she had on her face -- it’s like she wanted to cave into herself, honestly,” Guilliam said.
Guilliam said she has known Ashley for more than 10 years.
“She is great person. When I say a great person, her kids were everything to her,” she said.
Guilliam said Ashley is depressed, is struggling with emotional and psychological issues, was in need of guidance and had reached a breaking point.
“It's hard trying to keep kids, living with someone and other people at the time. That's a huge burden within itself. I feel like she just got overwhelmed,” she said.
Guilliam said it is no excuse but believes that, at that moment, Ashley felt that, by leaving her kids at the store, she was giving them a shot at a better life.
“It's not a good feeling. I want her to know she is not alone and that we will help advocate for her, support her. Don't give up,” she said.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office will wait until the police investigation is wrapped up to decide whether or not to press charges.
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