MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Capt. James Crawford and his heavily-armed special operations team had been scouring the deep woods of north Mississippi for days before they finally found a 35-year-old man accused of kidnapping two young girls after killing their mother and older sister.
The intense search a year ago for Adam Mayes lasted for nearly two weeks. It ended when Crawford, an officer with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and about 20 other agents saw Mayes fatally shoot himself near his remote hiding place.
The sisters were rescued safely by the team led by Crawford, who is being honored next week by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
"It was one of the best feelings in the world," Crawford said of finding the girls alive. "I love kids and I hate for someone to do something to a child."
Crawford and 10 other agents from the FBI's Memphis office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and a handful of Mississippi law enforcement agencies will be guests at the center's congressional breakfast in Washington on Wednesday. The center is recognizing them for their work on the search for Mayes, who was found May 10, 2012.
Law enforcement officials who worked on child-related cases in Kansas, Indiana, Virginia and Mexico City also are scheduled to be honored.
Mayes was charged with killing Jo Ann Bain and her 14-year-old daughter Adrienne on April 27, 2012, in their home in Whiteville, Tennessee Authorities said Mayes and his wife then drove home to Guntown, Mississippi, with the dead bodies and the two surviving girls, 12-year-old Alexandria and 8-year-old Kyliyah.
Investigators searched Mayes' home and found the bodies buried in the backyard. The girls, and Mayes, were gone.
"It was certainly intense, it was nerve-racking," Union County, Mississippi Sheriff Jimmy Edwards said of the manhunt.
Edwards said he was humbled by the recognition. He noted the good work of the hundreds of other officers and agents who also were part of the search.
"I'll never forget seeing the little girls. Just knowing that they were safe, that was just a great feeling," Edwards said.
During the search, authorities arrested Mayes' wife, Teresa, and his mother, Mary.
Teresa Mayes was charged with two counts of murder. Authorities said she hid in the car while her husband killed Jo Ann and Adrienne Bain.
In a statement she read in court in October, Teresa Mayes told authorities her husband hit Jo Ann Bain in the head with a board and strangled her with a rope, then smothered Adrienne.
Teresa Mayes said her husband planned the crimes because he was infatuated with Alexandria and feared losing her because her family was planning to move to Arizona. Adam Mayes threatened to kill his wife if she didn't help him, the statement said.
Mary Mayes faces two charges of especially aggravated kidnapping. Authorities say she knew about the kidnappings but did not tell authorities.
Both women have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trials in September.
Because of the ongoing prosecution, agents can't offer many specifics about the search. But authorities said during the manhunt that Mayes had cut his long hair, and his knowledge of the thick woods near his home helped him elude authorities. Mayes and the girls were found near a church and an old logging road.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Cathy Ferguson said the high level of cooperation between many law enforcement agencies made the case unique.
"It's very logistical to coordinate with several agencies, and I'll say that it was flawless," Ferguson said.
Crawford said finding Mayes and the Bain girls was just part of his job.
"The award probably needs to go to the kids instead of us," he said. "The greatest reward was getting them back."