(CNN) -- Dirty, dehydrated and starving, itching all over with poison ivy and bug bites, 12-year-old Alexandra Bain and her 8-year-old sister Kyliyah Bain lay face-down in a swath of northern Mississippi woods -- their kidnapper by their side.
Thirteen days earlier, authorities say the girls were abducted from their Whiteville, Tennessee, home by Adam Mayes after he strangled their mother and 14-year-old sister.
And for the last three days, Alexandria and Kyliyah had nothing to eat or drink.
Their weary, young bodies were prone, right along with Mayes, about dusk Thursday near a logging road in an area populated with deer and an occasional hunter, but little else.
Then a state officer -- one of scores of law enforcement agents who had been working round the clock to find Mayes and the Bain sisters -- yelled, "Get your hands up."
One girl picked her head up, soon followed by the other. Mayes himself then began to raise his head, all the while holding a 9 mm pistol.
"I hollered 'Gun!' three times to let my team know that there was a weapon involved," recalled Master Sgt. Steve Crawford, head of the Mississippi Highway Patrol's special operations unit.
"Then he raised to his knees, never brandished a gun toward any of us or the children, and at that time took his own life."
That single gunshot wound to the head ended a manhunt that spanned several states and involved about 24 law enforcement agencies, said FBI special agent in charge Daniel McMullen. It also captivated the nation, rocketing Mayes from obscurity to a spot on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list practically overnight.
And most of all, it tore apart a family -- leaving two young girls motherless, but alive.
It is "just a very, very close-knit, loving family. And it's a family that didn't deserve this," Rick Foster told HLN's "Nancy Grace" show Thursday, hours after talking to his relieved good friend Gary Bain, who had just learned his two daughters were alive.
For all the new details provided by federal and state officials at a press conference Friday in Jackson, Mississippi, many questions remained. Chief among them -- and one that may never be fully answered, with Mayes dead -- is why he did what he did.
The two people who may know best, Alexandria and Kyliyah, ideally can "shed some light" whenever they "get to where they can speak, when they calm down," said state Department of Public Safety Albert Santa Cruz.
But for now, authorities say they are just thankful that the girls are alive.
The sisters "didn't cry" after Mayes shot himself "within inches" of them, seemingly relieved the worst of their ordeal was over Thursday night, said Crawford. After getting a drink of water, they were whisked off by ambulance with two female agents, said FBI spokesman Jason Pack.
Then, some time between 2 and 5 a.m. Friday, they were released from Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, hospital spokeswoman Sara Burnett said.
"A lot of prayers were answered when we found these two young ladies to be safe," said Lt. Lee Ellington, a state Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Parks officer who was on site when Mayes committed suicide and the girls were rescued.
"At the end of the day, the two young ladies returned home to their father safely, as did all officers."
The saga began April 27, when Jo Ann Bain's husband, Gary, called police to report that his wife and three daughters were missing from their Tennessee home.
The Bain and Mayes families are connected through Gary and his former wife, Pamela, who is Adam Mayes' sister, explained Shana Johnson, a lawyer for Adam Mayes' mother-in-law, Josie Tate.
Tate has said that Adam Mayes believed the two girls he allegedly abducted were his children.
But Brenda Foster firmly denied to HLN that Jo Ann Bain, her close friend of 26 years who was back in school pursuing a degree in elementary education, was ever "intimate" with Mayes. Her husband, Rick Foster, explained how the Bains had embraced and trusted Mayes -- with their daughters calling him "uncle" and Gary giving him odd jobs and treating him like "a son."
Even then, authorities say, Mayes violently turned on the family.
Police said that his wife, Teresa Mayes, told police she was in the Bains' garage when her husband killed Jo Ann Bain and her eldest daughter, Adrienne Bain. According to a law enforcement source, the two were strangled.
Johnson, Teresa Mayes' attorney, said Thursday that her client last saw Mayes and the Bain girls in Mississippi on April 27.
Along with her late husband, Teresa Mayes was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping. He had faced an additional count of making a false report, according to arrest affidavits filed in Tennessee.
"I don't want to believe that. I want to believe that she was forced to do that in some way," Teresa's sister, Bobbi Booth, told CNN on Friday.
Tate calls her daughter Teresa "as much a victim of Adam Mayes as the Bain family."
"Teresa was scared of Adam. If she didn't do just as Adam told her to do, she would suffer the results," the mother told HLN on Friday.
In affidavits, investigators said the Mayeses drove the bodies of Jo Ann and Adrienne Bain to Union County in northern Mississippi, where they were discovered Saturday in a shallow grave behind the house of Adam Mayes' mother in Guntown.
It was then that an Amber Alert was issued, seeking the public's help in tracking down the girls and Adam Mayes.
The FBI initially noted Mayes had connections to Arizona, Texas, Florida and the Carolinas. Still, they said their main focus remained in Mississippi -- even after the number of tips spiked, from all over the country, after Mayes' inclusion on the FBI's "most wanted" list earlier this week.
"He had family there, he had friends there, and that area was the last area where (Mayes) was seen," said FBI special agent McMullen, noting a witness reported seeing the suspect there on May 1. "So that's what kept us there; that's what kept the pressure up on that area, and I think that was critical to this ending."
By Thursday, the reward for information leading to Mayes' arrest stood at $175,000. The tip that ultimately led authorities to him and the girls was not that anyone spotted them, but that an old log cabin behind a church in Alpine, Mississippi, might be a good hiding place.
It is a "very good possibility" that tipster may take home that reward, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said.
Adam Mayes' mother, Mary Frances Mayes, also has been charged with conspiracy to commit especially aggravated kidnapping.
Three others have been arrested in connection with the case, a law enforcement source told CNN -- including one for making a false statement and two others for illegal possession of a firearm. One of these is the person who provided Mayes with the gun he used to shoot himself, the source said.
While there was some closure Thursday night, officials have stressed that the investigation is ongoing. And that means authorities may try to hold more people accountable for what happened to the Bain family.
"That effort goes on, and additional arrests are possible," Bryant said.
CNN's Rich Phillips and Joe Sutton, and HLN's Natisha Lance, Mike Brooks and Josey Crews contributed to this report.
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