Britshonna McDaniel felt the weight of the world lift when a news reporter nodded “yes” to her question: “Did they find them?”

Her two children and their cousin had been missing for 18 hours after they wandered away from their northwest Atlanta neighborhood park Thursday afternoon. The 6-year-old, 10-year-old and 14-year-old were found safe at a friend’s house at about 9 a.m. Friday.

“In my heart, I just felt like something was really wrong because this has been too many hours,” McDaniel said. “I’m shaky. I am, I’m very shaky. My heart is beating so fast. My chest hurt. But now that (they) have found them, I’m very excited. I can’t wait ‘til they get here so I can hug them.”

It was routine for the children to go to the park within the Westside Crossing complex on Perry Boulevard in the Scotts Crossing neighborhood, but their grandmother, Alkini Patterson, said they have always returned home.

Patterson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her grandchildren left for the park Thursday around 3 p.m. after helping their mother unload groceries, but they didn’t have a cellphone with them.

“Then she watched them go to the park. They did go to the park,” Patterson said. “They normally come back from the park. But they didn’t come back this time.”

A security camera captured them walking near the Circle K gas station on Hollywood Road, which is less than a mile from their home and down the street from Abner Place, another small park that has a playground with a swing set.

“When we have children that are at this age, it’s considered critical and time is of the essence,” Atlanta police Deputy Chief Andrew Senzer told reporters. “So we put officers out in the field, canvass the area. But we can’t overlook our technology, and that was a fantastic tool for us. We were able to see them at different points in time where they were.”

Investigators retraced the children’s steps and eventually found them at a friend’s house on Mary George Avenue, Senzer said. The street loops around Westside Atlanta Charter School, which sits across from the apartment complex.

“As a father of kids, I know what that’s like to potentially have your kids gone from home for a long time and not know where they are, especially at night,” Senzer said. “We’re just all happy they were located.”

Police are still conducting their investigation into why the children wandered off for so long. McDaniel said her teenage daughter likes to spend time with friends, and the younger ones follow because they love her and want to be around her.

“I try to tell my daughter this is a cruel world. It really is,” she said. “They don’t care about you being a child or none of that. They will do stuff to you and just leave you there, and we just left here to wonder, like, ‘What’s happened?’”

But at this point, McDaniel said the kids aren’t in trouble. The family is just happy they’re back home and safe.