05:40 - Source: CNN
Missing Georgia boys found safe

Story highlights

NEW: A person alerted police after recognizing the missing boys on CNN, police say

Daniel Cleary failed to return his sons as planned and hadn't been heard from

An Amber Alert went out Thursday; the boys' mother pleaded Saturday for their return

"It is amazing. I had lost hope," their mother says, shortly after talking to her sons

Atlanta CNN  — 

First it was the start of winter vacation. Then Christmas Eve and Christmas passed, as had Henry Cleary’s eighth birthday.

But finally – after 10 days away from home, with his mother and the rest of their family unaware of where they were most of that time Henry and his older brother, Ben, should soon be heading back to Georgia.

The two boys were found Saturday evening in Austin, Texas – about 950 miles west of their hometown of Roswell, an Atlanta suburb – Austin Police Lt. James Nisula told CNN.

The brothers are safe. And the man who is suspected of taking them, their father Daniel Cleary, is in police custody, according to Nisula.

He will be charged with interstate interference with custody, a felony, and extradited back to Georgia, according to Roswell Police Lt. James H. McGee.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m in shock,” Theresa Nash, soon after hearing the news and getting off the phone with her boys.

Her joy was a far cry from what she was feeling a few hours earlier.

Nash said she didn’t know why her estranged husband did not bring the boys home as planned Wednesday from a trip to Tennessee that began December 19. She told CNN affiliate WSB-TV that she had not heard from Daniel Cleary since December 22.

In an emotional plea on CNN Saturday, she asked for the boys to be brought home safely.

“He’s trying to take care of them,” she said of her estranged husband. “But I think it’s a scary situation for everybody at this point.”

Police first issued an Amber Alert for the suspect and his two sons on Thursday, eight days after they were last seen in Georgia.

“Suspect & children are believed to be traveling in a 2002 silver Jeep Grand Cherokee … traveling on west side of Nashville, TN, on Interstate 40,” the alert stated.

The next day, authorities released pictures of the father and his two boys taken from surveillance cameras December 23 and December 24 at a Walmart in Jackson, Tennessee.

Still, they didn’t know exactly where they were.

That changed Saturday, soon after Theresa Nash went on CNN, clutching Ben’s beloved teddy bear and Henry’s stuffed hippo as she sat beside a picture of the two boys.

“This vacation has been overdue. It’s time to come home, and we welcome you home … safely,” she said, addressing Daniel Cleary.

“Your whole family is behind this, as is my whole family. We are working together, and we really want you to come home.”

A person at the Crossland Austin West hotel in Texas had been watching CNN, recognized the Cleary brothers and called 911, said Austin police Lt. Wuthipong Tantaksinanukij.

After getting that tip around 5:11 p.m. CT, officers went to the hotel and, as “they started setting up, saw the suspect coming out of one of the rooms with the two children,” Tantaksinanukij said.

“He was taken into custody without further incident,” said the police spokesman, noting Daniel Cleary is now at the Williamson County Jail.

Authorities looking into the case subsequently found “a handgun – a pistol – and a large sum of money.”

Tantaksinanukij said he didn’t know why the boys and their father ended up in Austin, or how long they’d been there. But he said the case might not have been solved Saturday night without the alert citizen, as well as the Amber Alert system that publicizes news of missing and endangered children on highways, in police stations and around the United States.

“The law enforcement community nationwide, we take these Amber Alerts seriously when it deals with kids,” Tantaksinanukij said. “This was one of the cases where it was activated and it worked.”

Around the time her estranged husband was being taken into custody, Nash said she got a call from a man who said, “I’m sitting here with your two sons.”

He then handed the phone to the boys. Unaware of the commotion, the boys said Daniel Cleary had told them their mother was in the hospital, Nash said. They talked about other things as well – like the birthday boy Henry bragging about how he’d been kicking Ben’s butt on iPad games, and Nash telling them she’d gotten the brothers an Xbox for Christmas.

“They were all joy,” she said.

For now, her boys are healthy and with police, “doing what kids should be doing right now – they’re playing,” said Tantaksinanukij.

Nash said Saturday night that she was flying first thing to Dallas, then renting a car and driving to Austin. She doesn’t know where or when she’ll pick her sons up, “but we have plenty of time to figure it out.”

She thanked the media for showcasing her family’s story, and was taken aback by how much things changed for her and her family in a moment’s notice.

“It is amazing,” Nash said. “I had lost hope.”

CNN’s Jason Morrell and Chandler Friedman contributed to this report.