(MELBOURNE, Fla.) — A Florida judge has decided not to return two children to the parents that authorities followed across the country after they allegedly mentioned a suicide pact during efforts to treat one of their girls’ autism.
James Firth, 43, and wife Mai Firth, 31, were found with their daughters outside San Francisco last week. Before taking off for California late last month, they had traveled to Florida from Vietnam, where they had been living with their two girls, Trieu “Kiah” Co Firth, 2, and Chieu “Kristin” Quan Firth, 4.
The couple was seeking treatment for autistic daughter Kristin at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., police said.
A Brevard County judge ruled Monday that the two girls will remain with the Florida Department of Child Services for the rest of the month, saying it was clear that the parents had threatened to kill the kids.
“(You) didn’t bother calling anyone and took off for California? Come on,” the judge said.
In court Monday, James Firth denied that he ever intended to hurt his children, but the judge referred to records indicating specific threats made in the presence of the case worker overseeing Kristin, ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando reported.
Another custody hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 4 at 10:30 a.m. No criminal charges have been filed against the Firths.
“They are deeply concerned,” the Firth’s attorney Julie Pierce said, according to WFTV. “They were both weeping. They will do whatever this court requires of them to get their children back.”
The couple is alleged to have made the alarming statements to health professionals in Florida with whom they’d had contact with while seeking treatment for Kristin, Carrie Hoeppner of the Florida Department of Child Services told ABC News.
James Firth allegedly said he would kill their children and themselves if they were unable to get Kristin the treatment she needs.
Hoeppner said that when they were found in California last week, they agreed to return to Florida without incident.
“The family was found outside of San Francisco safely, and they were also very cooperative with authorities, even to the point of helping to get the kids into the car,” Hoeppner said. “There was no confrontation.”
The children were flown with social workers back to Florida Thursday, and have since been in the custody of the state’s Department of Children and Families.
At a shelter hearing Friday morning, the children’s paternal grandmother, Sandra Firth, asked the judge whether she could have temporary custody of the two girls. The judge denied the request, saying that he wanted to hear from the parents before reaching a final decision.
Police, who were already alarmed when they learned of James Firth’s alleged statements about killing his family and himself, told ABC News they were also concerned after they realized he had lied to police about the hotel where the family was staying while they sought treatment for Kristin before the four disappeared.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephanie Elam, CNN
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
Julia Horowitz, CNN
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN