HOUSTON -- A Houston woman has been charged with kidnapping the five children she has cared for since Hurricane Katrina.
An Amber Alert was issued Wednesday afternoon for the three girls and two boys, ages 3 to 8.
Rhonda Tavey, 44, took the children and their mother into her home after they came here from New Orleans. However, in mid-July, the Houston resident and the children disappeared and she is accused of kidnapping the kids.
In a late-night interview with the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, Tavey explained, "God led me to do it." She also told the Chronicle she was devastated by the criminal charges and planned to turn herself in on Thursday.
Tavey met the family while she was volunteering at the Astrodome where thousands of evacuees were housed in the days following Hurricane Katrina.
Tavey said she has been the children's primary caretaker for three years and has provided for them with no financial help from their parents or other family members.
Erica Alphonse admits she left the children in Tavey's care several times while she returned to New Orleans to try and build a new life. She said she planned to take the children back with her to New Orleans in mid-July, but that's when Tavey and the children disappeared.
The children's mother told deputies that Tavey left with the kids on July 13 without her permission.
"I pray everyday. At least three or four times every day, just take each day at a time," Erica Alphonse told 11 News on Wednesday.
She said she is trying to keep a positive attitude.
"I just go get my pictures. Look at my picture and think about the good things. Me and my children. The good days we had together until I get them back. That is what keeps me going," said Alphonse.
She had a message for Tavey Wednesday.
"Rhonda, I'm saying this from the heart: you've been our family for three years," Alphonse said. "You've grown accustomed to loving my children and loving me. I've grown accustomed to loving you. I never thought you would do this to me."
Investigators believe Tavey is in the Dallas area where she met with a reporter from 11 News' Belo station on Wednesday morning."I know that God put these kids in my hands to take care of not to put them back into harms way. That's the thing. The safety and well being of the kids is No. 1," said Tavey in an interview with WFAA-TV reporter Jim Douglas.
She claims their mother has a drug problem and frequently vanishes for weeks at a time. Tavey said Alphonse has threatened her with a knife.
"The parents are into drugs and crime and I know that God put these kids in my hands to take care of, not to put them back into harm's way" Tavey said. "The safety and well-being of the kids is number one and that's why I've taken the efforts that I have to remove them from all of that harm."
She believes Alphonse wants them back now for financial reasons.
"Her FEMA is about to run out and she needs these kids for welfare and that's the bottom line," Tavey said. "She needs them for food stamps and welfare."
There's no doubt the kids have grown close to Tavey.
"We call her Ra Ra because we don't call her Rhonda," said 8-year-old Rod Kessa Alphonse
The DA's office in Harris County told 11 News that all of the claims that Tavey is making about Alphonse are not true.
They also say that Tavey has been less than truthful with them during the course of the investigation.
"You get to a point of no choice but to file the criminal charges. We've resorted to everything. We've given her every option to cooperate and to assist us, every opportunity to do the right thing," said Assistant District Attorney Jane Waters. "She has put us in the position of having to file the criminal charges."
11 News checked Harris County records and found no criminal record for Alphonse.
"I love my children with all my heart," Alphonse told 11 News.
Even with her kid's missing, she stopped short of speaking ill of the woman accused of kidnapping them.
"I don't have anything bad to say about her. Because she's been good to me. To tell you the truth I don't know what it is (that caused her to take the kids)," said Alphonse. "She helped me and I am thankful for the help she gave me. But at this point. I don't know what to say. "It is lower than what happened to us during Katrina. She just really kicked me in the dirt with this."
Tavey is believed to be driving a blue 2004 Chrysler Town and Country Van, Texas License Plate 963-PTB.
She is charged with five counts of kidnapping and there are five felony warrants out for her arrest.
The children are Rod Kessa, 6-year-old Alaysa, 4-year-old Yasmine and 3-year-old twins Eric and Erin.
and the contributed to this report.