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3 missing Topeka children found safe

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Three children whose late-night disappearance from their Topeka home sparked an intense, 20-hour search were found unharmed Thursday evening just a few miles away, police said.

A citizen spotted the three siblings, two girls and a boy, playing in a creek along the Shunga Trail around 7:15 p.m., police Capt. Jerry Stanley said in a statement.

Medical personnel examined the children -- 13-year-old Stephanie Witten, 12-year-old Seth Witten and 10-year-old Michelle Witten -- at the scene and pronounced them "safe but hungry," Stanley said.

Police had said throughout the search that began with their parents' report of the disappearance around 11 p.m. Wednesday that foul play was not suspected. An Amber Alert was not issued.

The Kansas Highway Patrol and other agencies took part in the search, which brought in nearly a dozen reports of possible sightings. The search was contained within the city limits.

Stanley had said Thursday afternoon that the biggest concern was whether the children were getting food and water as the temperature rose into the 90s.

"We don't want them out there," he said.

The children's mother, Kathy Witten, told The Topeka Capital-Journal ( she left them home with her husband, William, on Wednesday evening while she ran an errand with the couple's 2-year-old daughter and her mother. Witten said her husband later left the three children home alone when he went to a gym to work out, and they were gone when the parents arrived back home.

The three children, who are biological siblings, were adopted by the Wittens in 2007.

Without going into detail, she said her oldest daughter had been involved in a similar incident about a year ago. But the younger two hadn't gone missing before Wednesday night.

"I'm just not sure how she got the younger ones out," Witten said. "We hadn't been fighting. There were no blow-ups. Just normal, daily stuff."