Authorities spent two years tracking Shellie White but always came up empty until Friday.
ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. -- A mother charged with abducting her two children was accused of posing as a man while on the run, and authorities say the heavyset woman with cropped hair and a slight mustache even had the kids calling her "Daddy."
Shellie White, 30, said it was all a misunderstanding, claiming in a jail interview with The Associated Press that she never tried to hide her identity or change her appearance.
"I haven't lived the life of someone on the run," she said. "I never knew I was on the run."
White was arrested in Roanoke Rapids on Friday, more than two years after she allegedly took her children from Arizona. Investigators said she and another woman were living together as the children's father and mother.
In a statement, the U.S. Marshals Service said White had "radically changed her appearance to that of a man."
"She even went so far as to tell her children, aged 3 and 5 at the time, that she was their father," the Marshals Service said. "When she was arrested, the children, now aged 6 and 8, asked why they were arresting their Daddy."
Authorities said that White had posed as her husband and had used other male aliases while on the run.
She is 5-foot-9 and 280 pounds, wears her hair closely cropped and has a slight mustache and stubble. She blamed the facial hair on a hormone disorder. White said she had considered a sex-change operation, but decided against it because of the cost and denied it was part of any scheme to avoid police.
White said she made no effort to persuade her children she was their father. She admitted telling her 6-year-old son to tell children at his school she was his father, but said that was only because they teased him about her appearance.
White's 8-year-old daughter, Erica, said the children had to refer to White as a man "because he told us to call him Daddy and dads are mostly 'hes."'
White was living with a woman named Holly Sirois. When they first met, the children called White their "Mommy," Sirois said. "But progressively, over time, they started calling her Dad," she said. "I don't know why they started doing it. They just did."
Sirois said that when she and White were out in public, people assumed they saw a man and a woman.
White agreed to be returned to Arizona to face charges of custodial interference. Her ex-husband, Ernest Karnes, said he and White had joint custody of the children at the time of their disappearance.
He and his current wife flew from their home in Globe, Ariz., to North Carolina on Sunday to seek custody of the children, Dustin, now 6, and Erica, 8. They picked up the children Monday in Roanoke Rapids and planned to return to Arizona on Wednesday.
White denied she stole her children and insisted she had legal authority to move with them.
Authorities were able to trace the children to various schools, but always came up empty because White "wouldn't keep them in a school no more than maybe six months," said Sheriff's Detective Johnny Holmes of Gila County, Ariz.
Karnes said the break came when a bill collector led detectives to the home in Roanoke Rapids, about 85 miles northeast of Raleigh.
"I was eating dinner," Karnes said. "I dropped my plate. They said 'We've got her.' ... I'm pretty sure at that point, I broke down crying."