Ohio police and FBI agents are hunting for a mother who abducted her four children who were soon to be removed from her custody, authorities said Tuesday.
Marianne L. Merritt, 41, spirited away her children, ranging from 8 to 13 years old, at about 2 a.m. Tuesday, according to a witness, police said. Her boyfriend, considered armed and dangerous, was with them, police said.
Family members told police that they heard discussion about Florida and worried that Merritt might take them there, prompting the Lima Police Department to issue a warning on Facebook for states from "Ohio to Florida."
The children, two boys and two girls, had been placed under the care of someone else, and Merritt collected them after learning that there was an imminent order from child protective services to remove them, Lima police Sgt. Chris Sprouse told The Washington Post.
Police identified the children as Damara Croley, 13; Benjamin Karl-Leland Croley, 12; Patience Wilson, 9; and Damien Wilson, 8.
Merritt technically had custody then, he said, but a hearing scheduled later Tuesday might have changed that. Sprouse could not say why there was a custody battle or give information about the children’s father or fathers.
Charles Perkins, Meritt’s boyfriend, abducted the children with her, Sprouse said. The 39-year-old is wanted on a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge involving children, police said.
The FBI field office in Cleveland is assisting in the investigation, agent Vicki Anderson said. She declined to give further details about their involvement or say whether federal agents expanded their efforts outside Ohio, but did not rule out the possibility.
"Wherever the investigation takes us, we’ll follow it," she told The Post. "We just want to ensure the safety of these kids."
Merritt drove away in a dark blue 2000 Chrysler Voyager van with a white passenger door, with a license plate reading FMQ3175, police said.
Both adults are considered armed and dangerous because of Perkins’ concealed carry permit and violence in his past, Sprouse said.
Authorities have leads to their whereabouts but declined to release them out of concern for affecting the search.
Few details were available Tuesday. Sprouse said Merritt’s last job was at a gas station but did not know Perkins’s occupation. Lima is about 90 miles northwest of the capital, Columbus.