According to authorities, a 14-year-old girl texted her mother for help while on I-40 earlier this month.
The girl said her stepmother tried to break her leg and had punched her younger brother in the face. She also said her father had pulled her hair. It is not clear where the family was when the texting began.
The 14-year-old was with her father, stepmother and two siblings returning to Maryland from a trip to Myrtle Beach on August 7.
After receiving the text, the girl's mother called the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Using mile markers as directions, the child relayed information to her mother via text messages while she sat in the back seat of the vehicle. Authorities used that information to locate the family on I-40.
Trooper Jack Thorpe stopped the car near the Johnston-Sampson County line. He says he observed the children with visible injuries including an 8-year-old boy with a black eye and a 14-year-old girl with bruises on her leg. A third child, a 12-year-old, also was in the vehicle.
"The first thing that I saw was the 8-year-old boy, starting to get somewhat of a black eye in his left eye," Thorpe said.
The stepmother told authorities she punched the 8-year-old boy in the face with her ring, because they were being disrespectful.
However, because authorities could not determine exactly where the abuse happened, Thorpe had no authority to charge the adults. The father ended up releasing the children to the trooper.
Thorpe says a Johnston County social worker refused to accept temporary custody of the children, saying the case was Maryland's jurisdiction and not Johnston County's.
With the verbal permission of the children's mother, who was on the phone in Baltimore, Trooper Thorpe took custody of the children until their mother could pick them up.
Thorpe says he took the children to his home where they played with his children and ate dinner. Their mother arrived from Baltimore about 12 hours later.
"Big hugs with the kids and she was just happy to see them safe," Thorpe said.
Thorpe, who has been a state trooper for more than three years, says seeing the way all of his colleagues worked together to help the children makes him feel proud to be a trooper.
"It makes me feel like I've made a difference in somebody's life," he said.
Thorpe also says he feels the Department of Social Services failed in the way they handled the situation and he's calling for change.
ABC11 tried to contact DSS for comment, but calls to a DSS after hours number was not immediately returned.