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Kidnapped kids safe, but mom can't see them

Three-year-old Jalen Mattison and his sister, 1-year-old Amari Mattison.

Two young children kidnapped by a man who offered to help when the family car broke down in the middle of the night are safe, but Georgia authorities won't return them to their mother just yet.

Jalen Mattison, 3, and his one-year-old sister, Amari, were in the car with their mom when it became disabled on the side of an Atlanta-area interstate before 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Their mother told police a stranger stopped to help as she was calling a tow truck, but when she came back, she discovered he had driven off with the children in his dark green Jeep Cherokee.

The abduction set off a statewide alert until the kids were returned nearly 12 hours later by two unidentified women who said the suspect, a friend who they knew by nickname only, had dropped the kids off with them to "babysit," a DeKalb County police spokesperson told msnbc.com on Thursday.

"Shortly before 1:00 [Wednesday afternoon], the individuals that the man had dropped the kids off with became aware that they had been babysitting" abducted kids when they saw their photos on the news, DeKalb Police Spokeswoman Mekka Parish told msnbc.com. "They dropped them off at a magistrate court and notified a uniformed officer that they were in possession of the kids."

The kids weren't harmed, and the women won't be charged with a crime, she said.

But Parish told msnbc.com that there are "questions" about the mother's ability to care for her kids, and the Division of Families and Children Services was called in to investigate. The mother will not be allowed to see her children until the agency grants her permission.

News reports on Wednesday listed the mother as Ashley Mattison, 24, with no fixed address. She reportedly had been moving from hotel to hotel with the children.

Previous report: Ga. cops: 2 children reported missing found safe

There was no reason to doubt mother's story of the abduction, Parish said, and the mother faces no criminal charges related to the kidnapping. But "the DFACS investigation is something completely separate," and the mother could face charges related to her care of the children.

The suspect in the kidnapping has not been identified or caught yet, Parish told msnbc.com.

WSB.com, a Georgia NBC affiliate, reported surveillance cameras from a gas station on Interstate-20 in DeKalb County early Wednesday morning showed a man matching the suspect's description walking to a dark green Jeep Cherokee, and then driving off.

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