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Woman accused of abusing her children long before Tuesday's AMBER Alert

Zaikiya Duncan and Jova Terrell were taken into custody in Louisiana after an AMBER Alert that originated out of the Cypress area.

HOUSTON — A woman and her husband could be facing charges in Harris County after a whirlwind of a day that covered two states and five missing children.

According to authorities, it started early Tuesday when 16-year-old twins told authorities they were able to escape their home where they were handcuffed. They said they ran from the home and found someone to call the police.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Zaikiya  Duncan and Jova Terrell are charged. However, as of Thursday morning, no official charges had been filed.

The twins didn't know the address of the house because they said they hadn't lived there long and said they hadn't been outside recently.

By the time Harris County Precinct 5 constable deputies were able to find the house on Marina Alto Lane (near the intersection of West Road and Fry Road in Cypress), the twins' mother and stepfather and their five brothers (ages 8 to 14) were gone.

An AMBER Alert was issued Tuesday afternoon for the five children. Authorities said the boys were with their 18-year-old brother, their biological mother, Zaikiya Duncan, and Jova Terrell. They said both Duncan, 40, and Terrell, 27, could be charged with injury to a child. It's unclear when they'll be brought back to Texas.

Around 5 p.m., Duncan and Terrell were taken into custody near the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge. Only one child was with them, according to authorities. The couple told investigators that the other boys were dropped off at a relative's house, where they were found and are OK, officials said.

The twins were placed in Child Protective Service custody and were taken to an area hospital to be treated for bruises and malnourishment, according to authorities.

Anyone with information about this situation is asked to call the Harris County Precinct 5 Constables Dispatch Office at 281-463-6666.

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Troubling past

It's not the first time Duncan has been arrested and charged due to alleged child abuse.

According to Louisiana court documents from 10 years ago, a then-5-year-old child of Duncan's was taken from school to a local hospital to be treated for burns to the child's feet, genitals and other parts of his body.

Doctors determined it was likely the result of being burned by hot water.

According to the documents, when police got to Duncan's home, they found a 20-month-old child wrapped in clothing with his hands bound. The only other person in the home was the child's 4-year-old brother, according to the documents.

During questioning, police said Duncan admitted to routinely disciplining one child by making him get into a push-up position for up to an hour, causing the child's hands to swell. The child was also forced to sleep on the floor of the closet, court documents said. The door of the closet was blocked by boards to keep the child from "escaping" and "stealing food from the kitchen," court records said.

Police reported at the time that two of Duncan's other children also showed signed of abuse and were removed from the home.

What is an AMBER Alert?

Certain criteria need to be met in order for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert for a missing child age 17 or younger.

First, there needs to be a reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction occurred. Additionally, the law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

Another criterion is that there is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction that would assist in the recovery of the child, such as a vehicle description or license plate number.

As part of the AMBER Alert, the child's name and other critical date elements, including the child abduction flag, are entered into the National Crime Information Center.

The AMBER Alert system, used in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, was created in 1996. It stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bike in Arlington, Texas, and later murdered.

You can view all active Texas AMBER Alerts from the Texas Dept. of Public Safety here.

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