The two love-struck teenagers who ran off together say they bolted because the parents of the 13-year-old girl had insisted she was too young to date.
Once 15-year-old Gage Petherbridge and his girlfriend Hannah McConnell hit the Michigan highway in the Petherbridge family minivan, they headed for Louisiana because Hannah said she'd never seen the ocean.
The "Romeo and Juliet" saga — a moniker Gage likes — began Jan. 12, when they defied their parents about seeing each other, took almost $700 Gage got for Christmas and left town with Mandy, the Petherbridge cocker spaniel.
After a nine-day nationwide search, the teens and their parents were reunited Tuesday in Baton Rouge, La., where they spoke exclusively with ABC's Andrea Canning about how they evaded the authorities and spent their days on the run.
But first, they wanted to apologize to their parents.
"I'm sorry and I love them and I missed them," said Hannah.
Hannah's mom, Julie McConnell, says she couldn't believe the relief when she saw the two of them walk out of the Louisiana jail where they were temporarily held. "I told Hannah I loved her. … You don't have a clue what you put us through, but thank God you're OK."
"I felt like it was the only option. … We were together and that's all we really wanted," said Gage.
Hannah and Gage describe their nine days on the run as a taste of freedom. Gage says they "drove around, found random Wal-Marts and stuff. Hit a couple malls."
How did they choose the route? "She said she wanted to see the ocean," said Gage.
While they may have escaped their parents, they couldn't outrun the national media coverage. An ambulance driver recognized them on a beach in Cameron Parish, La., and called police.
Gage says he knew they would eventually be caught, but didn't expect to end up in prison. "It's probably the last place I thought I would be. I never want to go back."
Hannah says their spontaneous trip was about defying her parents, who had tried to keep them apart, claiming she was too young to date.
"It was something I wanted for a long time to be with him without having to worry about my parents being there," said Hannah.
Hannah's parents were particularly worried because she suffers from bipolar disorder and left without her medication; based on journal entries, her mother felt she could be suicidal.
"I went off of it for a week and a half," Hannah said.
"She was happy the whole time," said Gage.
The pair says they plan to continue to see each other and Hannah's mother says she won't object if her daughter stays on her medication and gets good grades.
"Gage came up to me and asked what the future held for them. … I told them we had things to work out but Hannah had to do her part in it too," said Julie McConnell.
Hannah says she's going to make an effort to stay on her medication this time and resume her therapy. She wants to return to her eighth-grade class as soon as possible and just be a normal kid.
Both sets of parents admit there have been many frustrating moments during the emotional roller coaster, but Hannah and Gage say they are truly in love and nothing will tear them apart.
"I want to be with her," Gage insisted.
"Would you call this a love story?" asked Canning.
"Ya, I would," Gage replied.
"I understood how they felt about one another, why they made the choice they made. Disappointed? Yeah. Angry? … I am not there yet," said Hannah's mom.
As for the "Romeo and Juliet" tag, Gage says he's used to it. "My mom always called us that. It's kind of fitting."