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The Manhattan couple who abducted their eight kids from a Queens child services center in broad daylight last month continues to insist they acted in the best interest of their children.
Nephra and Shanel Payne sparked a nationwide manhunt as they fled in a van with their children, who range in age from 11 months to 11 years, and eluded officials for a week before being caught in Pennsylvania.
The couple told The New York Times they learned shortly before the abduction that their children would be put up for adoption rather than returned to their biological parents. The seven boys and baby girl had been in foster care for three years after being taken from the Paynes following allegations of abuse.
“It’s either do something or let your kids get swallowed by a system that does not have a heart,” Nephra Payne told the Times. “To do nothing would have been more hurtful, more reckless.”
Child welfare officials did not elaborate on the accusations to the Times, citing privacy rules. But the Paynes steadfastly denied their household was anything other than a loving one.
Though federal and state authorities remained in hot pursuit of the Payne family during their week on the run, the parents described a seven-day period of blissful celebration and enjoyment in the company of their children.
They talked to the Times about watching their children perform happily on a stage in Harrisburg, a chicken dinner in the van and how the couple’s youngest child, 11-month-old Nefertiti, rested her head on her father’s chest and never seemed to want to move.
At one point, Shanel Payne told the Times her 6-year-old son thanked her for taking them.
“He said, ‘I thought this was a dream. Thank you so much for taking us,’” Payne told the paper. “I know that what I did was right because I heard it from my son.”
Eventually, authorities tracked the Paynes to Harrisburg and cornered them in their van, which had been parked on a side street.
Nephra and Shanel Payne were initially charged with eight counts of kidnapping, but those charges were later dropped. Instead they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor custodial interference late last month.
They were sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of probation and released the day before Thanksgiving.
The children were unharmed during the ordeal and have been returned to the custody of their foster care parents. Neither parent is permitted to see or speak to their children. They’re due back in court Dec. 15.