Miami-Dade Schools Police said Monday they have obtained a felony arrest warrant for a mother accused of secretly entering her son’s Cutler Bay school and removing him from it.
Carrie Weingarth, 32, is sought on a charge of interference with custody, police said.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 12-year-old Erin Pena and his two younger brothers Steven, age 8, and Derick, age 7, have been seen in the area of Lake City, Florida. Authorities said Weingarth may have used a credit card near the area, just north of Gainesville.
That is more than 400 miles away from where their father Steven Pena lives.
"That's actually exciting news for me. It means they're OK, for now," said the hopeful father of the three kids.
On Valentine's Day, Miami-Dade Schools Police said, Weingarth secretly entered Gulfstream Elementary School in Cutler Bay, taking Erin at lunchtime without permission. Steven Pena said Weingarth is on a list of people not authorized to pick up Erin from school.
"I went to pick up my son and he was missing," Pena said.
"I was lost, I didn't know what was going on. For a moment I thought it was a dream,"
The estranged couple has had an ongoing custody dispute between them. Miami-Dade Schools Police believe the children are victims of an interference of custody case. Pena claims he hasn't seen his two youngest children for five months. He said Weingarth disappeared and kept them from him.
"She did that to hurt me. She is very irrationable (sic)," he said.
"My biggest fear is that they could be in danger because of the boyfriend that she's with," Pena added.
Weingarth could also be traveling with her boyfriend Christian Coello, authorities said. Both have active arrest warrants and criminal histories.
Weingarth's family members did not have kind words about the children's biological father.
"I blame him for it, because every contact that she made with Steven it was a big hassle," said Lillian Weingarth, the children's great-grandmother.
"The father is no good. No working. No giving money for the house," agreed Weingarth's stepfather, who did not want to be identified.
"The father hit the son too many times sometimes, and the mother don't like that," he said.
Records show Weingarth sued Pena for child support back in 2006. The Department of Children and Families said it has investigated tips made to its hotline about the father in the past, but could say no more.
"I have never been a danger to my kids. Any of my neighbors can tell you that. I've done everything for my kids. There's nothing I wouldn't do for them," Pena said.
He remains optimistic his children will be found safely.
"I know law enforcement is doing the best they can to find them,” he said. “I know they're doing their hardest."