A father reunited with his two missing children after nearly a year said his ex-wife, accused of kidnapping, kept them out of school and limited who they interacted with so they couldn’t be found.

The boys, ages 11 and 12, were reported missing in Missouri on March 15 and were found at a Florida grocery store last week.

“My children were missing. He didn’t know where they are. … That is the biggest fear in the world,” Blake Gilley, 38, said Monday afternoon in an exclusive interview. «It’s an understatement to say that he was terrified and scared.»

Gilley said the children told him they had not been to school since they disappeared and avoided detection by hopping from one rural Airbnb to another in several states.

The children were found Wednesday at a Winn-Dixie in High Springs, Florida, with their noncustodial mother, Kristi Nicole Gilley.

The 36-year-old woman was arrested with an active kidnapping warrant in Clay County, Missouri, police said. Officers found the children after a routine check on Gilley’s vehicle, which indicated the vehicle’s owner was a fugitive, police said.

All three were identified, despite having disguised their identities. It was not immediately clear how exactly their identities were disguised.

“These children and their abductor were passing through the area and had no residential connection to Alachua County, Florida, nor were they enrolled in any school,” Florida police said in a statement Monday.

The family was «en route to an Airbnb just outside of our area,» High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard said.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Blake Gilley, of Texas, said she met with her sons Friday and was told their mother tried to keep them inside, but when they were out in public they should avoid talking to people, especially the nonverbal boy who has Down’s Syndrome.

She said her children told her that “Kristi would never tell them what city they were in or anything. If they were in a car, they had to keep their heads down. My son still does that.»

Blake Gilley said the children said their mother told them not to talk or look anyone in the eye. He said that because of that, his son «will just look at the ground. He’s getting better now. I’ve been telling him, ‘Hey, you’re okay, dude, he’s looking up.'»

Kristi Gilley was listed as an inmate Monday afternoon at the Alachua County Jail.

His attorney, Maurice McDaniel, said Monday night that he will fight extradition to Missouri because he wants to become a Florida resident.

McDaniel said he spoke to Kristi Gilley for an hour in jail Friday and denied allegations that she kept her children hidden by hopping from one Airbnb to another. He also said that her mother did not indicate to him that she had instructed her children to limit her interactions with others.

County court documents in Florida said Gilley pleaded not guilty and was held without bail on Thursday. A representative for the Alachua County Clerk said no other court dates have been set.

Blake Gilley said the couple divorced in 2016 and that Kristi Gilley disappeared last year before they could resolve a custody dispute.

A probable cause statement from Clay County, Missouri said the couple had a joint custody agreement from Randall County, Texas, prior to April 14, 2022.

But the father was awarded sole custody after Kristi Gilley failed to appear in court, according to court documents. At one point, she lived with her sister and her children in Liberty, Missouri, in the Kansas City area, according to the report.

“Kristi had been making it increasingly difficult for Blake to visit or speak with the children for quite some time, and had refused to let Blake visit or speak with the children since 3/15/2022,” the court report states. .

The report says authorities searched for the children and the mother at a grandfather’s home in Chico, California, where they discovered the grandfather no longer lived there.

An advocate for Kristi Gilley stated that the mother would no longer cooperate with the court in Clay County because she believed she was being denied due process, according to the report, adding that the children were safe and home-schooled, according to lawyer.

A parental kidnapping warrant was filed against Kristi Gilley on July 13, 2022.

Blake Gilley said her children were not physically harmed, but emotionally: “They are still in shock. You can see that this is bothering them.»

She hopes her children will get counseling and go back to school: «To give them a fighting chance in life.»

The police deserve a lot of credit for finding her children, she said.

“They worked hard,” Gilley said.