A North Carolina judge has issued an ultimatum to the adoptive parents of missing North Carolina teen Erica Parsons –- speak up or kiss your children goodbye.
The stipulation was made during a Thursday hearing on the custody of Casey and Sandy Parsons' 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.
The Rowan County judge overseeing the proceeding said the couple must be able to explain what happened to Erica, without prompting criminal charges, if they want to regain custody of their younger children. Until that is done, the children will remain with family members, according to WSOC TV.
The Parsons did not speak with reporters after the hearing, but a relieved family member did speak out.
"We're just relieved that the kids are staying with their aunt and that things are just the same. Nothing has changed. It's just like it was, so that was a relief for the whole family," Angela Laubscher, an aunt, told reporters after the hearing.
The children were removed from the Parson family Salisbury home in July, when their adopted 15-year-old daughter, Erica, was reported missing by her older adopted brother.
Sandy and Casey Parsons told authorities they have not seen Erica since November 2011. The couple said the girl, then 13, went to Asheville to spend Christmas with her biological grandmother. They said she called them two months later and said she was not coming back. The couple said they supported the girl's decision.
The Rowan County Sheriff's Office said the information provided to them by Sandy and Casey Parsons is questionable. Family members, who investigators have spoken with, allegedly claim the grandmother in question has been dead for several years. It's also been alleged that the couple "routinely abused Erica both mentally and physically," police said.
Search warrants served in the case indicate the Parsonses continued cashing support payments for Erica after she left their home.
The investigation is ongoing.
Police are asking anyone with information to call detectives at 704-216-8700 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-The-Lost.