Johnson said none of the tips panned out until credible information led investigators to believe that he was in North Carolina. They didn't zero in until Virts and Caitlyn arrived in Florence, S.C., a town about five miles from Interstate 95 in the eastern part of the state.

At about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the Durango pulled into the motel in Florence. A balled-up yellow fleece blanket with purple and pink flowers, an open bag of nacho-cheese Combos and a Happy Meal box were inside the SUV on Saturday, and a purple skull sat on the dashboard.

Gause, who raised two boys who became law officers, said she didn't notice anything suspicious when the father and daughter came into the motel office. Virts handed her his Maryland driver's license and the license plate number for the Durango upon check-in.

On Friday morning, Virts paid for a second night in cash, and Gause saw the pair leave their room at about 4:30 p.m., assuming they were headed to dinner.

The motel was near capacity on both days, but Gause finally took a break around 7 p.m., when she scrolled through Facebook and matched Virts and the girl to a friend's post describing the intensive search.

She checked her records and called local police. Two officers arrived and checked the Facebook post and motel registry. "It wasn't long before things got rolling," she said.

One officer moved the police cruiser away, so not to alert Virts. They ran the Durango's tag through a national crime database, and when it came back with a hit, Florence City Police Chief Allen Heidler said he drove to the scene, along with an emergency response and negotiation team.

The agency's SWAT team also arrived, and Gause provided members with the room's layout. A negotiator called Virts' room, but he didn't pick up, Heidler said.

It was the tactical team's turn, Heidler said. The SWAT officers told Gause to stay in the back part of the office, away from the glass window.

Gause texted her daughter and a friend and told them both to pray. She heard officers knock on Room 101. They opened the door and Virts was standing in the doorway. He surrendered without incident, Heidler said.

When Gause came out of the back of the office, she saw officers surrounding the girl.

"They put her in a car, and the next thing I know they were gone," Gause said.

It is not yet clear what Virts' destination had been, Chief Johnson said on Saturday. He added that Virts did not appear to have received any assistance while he eluded capture. Johnson said Virts had a "limited number of assets" that would have helped him flee.

Federal authorities charged Virts with unlawful flight, but FBI special agent in charge Stephen E. Vogt said it was only done so a warrant could be obtained. Amy Weber, a releasing officer at the Florence County jail, said Virts waived extradition, and Baltimore County officials said that will expedite his return to Maryland to face prosecution.

"We do anticipate a successful prosecution," Johnson said.

Johnson said social services officials in South Carolina are working with Caitlyn and they will make decisions on where the girl will be placed after coordinating with her family. Caseworkers will continue to work with Caitlyn, her twin sister who was left in Dundalk and other siblings in the coming weeks, he said.

Back in Baltimore, Caitlyn's grandmother, Anna Trainor-Goodwin, was anxious to hug her grandchildren again.

In her home, the fridge is covered with Caitlyn's notebook drawings including a dragon and a tiger. Trainor-Goodwin said the girl aspires to be a fashion designer and described her as a "girlie-girl."

Elsewhere, was a picture of Bobbi Jo Cortez, Trainor-Goodwin's only daughter, wearing her hair in a bun. It was from a prom years ago.

"I feel like I let her down," said Cortez's father, Wallace. "She was the greatest mother in the world."

She was devoted to getting her children off to school with bagged lunches or money to buy food even though she worked nights, and buying them expensive Christmas gifts, he said.

Men had let her down, Wallace said, and she had indicated that she didn't want to let any more into her life.

"She told me she'll never trust a man as long as she lived," Wallace said. "She didn't want no more men in her life."

Baltimore Sun staff writers Ian Duncan and Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/justingeorge