The three young children of a woman found dead in the Gorman area were located safe in New Mexico Wednesday, but the victim's half sister and her friend, who are both suspected of kidnapping the youngsters, remained at large.
The body of 26-year-old Kimberly Harvill was found Aug. 14 in some brush by a motorist traveling along Gorman Post Road, north of State Route 138 in an unincorporated area near Lebec. She had been shot in the upper body, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reported.
The sheriff's department had earlier said she had suffered head trauma.
Detectives allege the woman's children -- Joslynn Watkins, 2, Brayden Watkins, 3, and Rylee Watkins, 5, were kidnapped by 22-year-old Brittany Humphrey and her friend, 27-year-old Joshua Robertson, who are both the subject of an arrest warrant for the alleged kidnapping and are also wanted for questioning in connection with Harvill's homicide.
The children were located in a motel on the outskirts of Albuquerque, where they were left in the care of a good Samaritan who notified local law enforcement, according to Deputy Kimberly Alexander of the Sheriff's Information Bureau.
The children's godmother, Michelle Elf, 40, said she is a mix of emotions.
"I'm amazingly relieved," she said. "They'd been gone for 10 days. I did fear the worst."
"To hear that they were safe, to know that they had been found, that's the best feeling in the world," the children's goffather, Tso Yanez, told NBC4.
Authorities were working with the Department of Children and Family Services to arrange for the safe return of the children to California, Alexander said.
Humphrey and Robertson "are still on the run and believed to be eastbound from Albuquerque toward neighboring states," she said. Investigators have also learned that Robertson has an infant in his care, the deputy said. At a news conference Wednesday morning, sheriff's homicide Lt. Joe Mendoza said the identification of the victim led detectives to conduct interviews in Fresno -- where Harvill lived -- and in Lebec.
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"During that investigation, in the following days, we also learned that the victim was the mother of three children," Mendoza said. "Our investigators continued ... trying to inquire about the whereabouts of these children and who they were with."
The children's father committed suicide within the past year.
The suspects may have family in Nebraska, and have some ties to Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, Mendoza said. Investigators have yet to disclose a motive for the kidnappings. Robertson and Humphrey are believed to be traveling in Harvill's silver 1999 Ford Expedition, which may bear California license plate number 7BEK024, or paper plates.
Robertson has a criminal history, is on post-release community supervision, and has a previous arrest for possession of a firearm, authorities said. He should be considered armed and dangerous and the public is advised to not approach the suspects if they are spotted but to notify law enforcement, according to the sheriff's department.
Investigators said the couple is still on the run with an 18-month-old girl whose mother gave Robertson caretaker status before she went off to jail.
Anyone with information about the case was asked to contact the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. To provide information anonymously, call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or access the website http://lacrimestoppers.org.