The car had been left running at the Handee Hugo's gas station on Pritchard Road in Clayton around 11:15 p.m. Saturday night.
Brian Keith Allen Jr., 22, has been charged with stealing a car and two counts of second-degree kidnapping.
Gabrielle Rand says she was paying for gas inside when Allen jumped into her SUV.
A Clayton mom relives when, she says, a man drove off with her SUV and her 2 young kids who were sitting in the backseat. She stopped for gas and went inside to pay when her kids were whisked away. #ABC11 pic.twitter.com/elNQ5TzhGb— Elaina Athans (@AthansABC11) March 11, 2019
She says she watched him open the door as she was at the counter.
"I was literally about to die," Rand told ABC11 on Monday. "I just couldn't believe it was happening. I see this on Lifetime. I just never thought this was happening to me. In my heart, I knew there was nothing I could do. I chased the truck, but I couldn't catch it."
"I was running pretty fast, just not fast enough," she said.
The children, ages 7 and 3, started to scream as the car pulled away and Allen stopped to ask the kids if they could call someone, police said.
The Clayton Police Department and Johnston County Sheriff's Office deputies found the unharmed children on Covered Bridge Road.
Rand is thankful her kids were returned and said the incident was a big wake-up call.
"I will never, ever take that chance ever again," said Rand. "To any parent that may do it and think the same thing 'Oh, it's literally two seconds that prevents me from taking them out the car seat, putting them back in' even if you're thinking it's two seconds, it's not worth it. Trust me, I learned my lesson."