Two children who had been living in North Carolina with their mother -- who allegedly passed herself off as a man and asked the kids to call her Daddy -- have been reunited with their father and will return home to Arizona.
Ernest Karnes and his ex-wife, Shellie White, had joint custody of their two children when White left their home state of Arizona in 2003, taking Erica, then 5, and Dusty, then 3. Tracked to Roanoke Rapids, N.C., White was arrested at her home on Friday.
"At the time we spotted Shellie White walking into an address that we had under surveillance and we made entry into the residence and took her into custody and retrieved the children, she was acting as a man and living her lifestyle as a man," said U.S. Marshal Tex Lindsey, who arrested White.
White said that her masculine appearance was nothing new, and that she had even considered a sex-change operation for a time.
"I have looked like this since … and DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] records can show … since round about 2001," she said. "This is just the way I look."
The U.S. Marshals Service said that White was using her ex-husband's name and identity at one point, as well as other male aliases while on the run.
White denied she was ever in hiding.
"I've always had public phone, public address. I've never kept that a secret. I've used my Social Security number, kids went to school under their own names. For an abduction case, this is a very, very strange one," White said.
The children were reunited with their father on Monday. Karnes said he experienced "tears, happiness, joy," when he saw them and "realized that they've grown a lot. They are two beautiful children."
Karnes said that his ex-wife did not look like a man when they were married.
"She had long hair and at the time we were together, she actually -- she looked like a woman. She's just altered her appearance, I would say probably within the last five years," he said.
The children said they were calling White "Daddy" and the woman she was living with "Mommy" because White had asked them to.
"After awhile he started asking us to call him Daddy, and we got real confused," Erica said.
Erica and Dusty will return to Arizona on Wednesday. White has also agreed to be returned to Arizona to answer the charges against her.
Karnes said he had high hopes for his children.
"Right now they're doing really well," he said. "Their memory is coming back to them about me and my family. They're real happy to be with us and seem to be coping pretty good with everything. … They're starting to open up a little. But I have a feeling they're going to have a real good recovery out of this."