Kidnapped kids and parents reunited
School bus driver to face kidnapping charge
LANDOVER HILLS, Maryland (CNN) -- Nearly 12 hours after they left home for what was to have been a 15-minute bus ride to school, more than a dozen children from Pennsylvania were reunited Thursday evening with their parents -- in a Maryland police building more than 100 miles away from home.
A school bus carrying about 18 parents pulled up to Prince Georges County Police Headquarters in Landover Hills, Maryland, at about 7 p.m. The parents went inside an auditorium, where they were reunited with their waiting children, who ranged from 6 to 15 years of age.
The parents and children then reboarded the bus to return home to Pennsylvania.
While the reunion was underway, the bus driver accused of taking the 13 children on a joyride that lasted more than five hours was escorted by police from the building and to a police car.
Authorities said Otto Nuss, 63, was to be taken to Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville. Wearing a baseball cap, his head bowed, Nuss said nothing to reporters.
He is scheduled to appear in court Friday morning, when he'll likely face federal kidnapping charges because he crossed state lines with the children.
A pastor associated with the school said everyone was grateful for the safe outcome of the situation.
"God was able to keep his finger on it and keep them safe -- and we rejoice," said the Rev. James Smith, an assistant church pastor who prayed with the other students at Berks Christian School in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, during the long search for the bus. "I think He answered our prayers."
The strange trip began Thursday morning, when Nuss turned off his usual route instead of going to the school.
"The bus left this morning, picking the children up in their normal trip to school," said FBI Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta. "Before it got to school, it made a turn that the children recognized as incorrect and the next thing they know it ended up here in Prince Georges County."
There was no explanation for why the bus deviated more than 100 miles from the Christian school attended by the children. Gulotta told reporters, "He (Nuss) said he wanted to show them Washington, D.C."
When the children did not turn up as scheduled at 9 a.m. at the school, located north of Philadelphia, authorities were notified and a search began.
Lt. Col. Orlando Barnes of the Prince George's County Police Department said a graphic artist, who was on her way to her job with the police department, spotted the bus driving down Route 202 just outside of Washington, the children waving frantically from the windows. She alerted police.
The trip came to an end at 2:30 p.m., when Nuss pulled the bus into a Dollar Store parking lot on Annapolis Road in Landover Hills, apparently because he saw a police car parked there, Gulotta said. Nuss then turned himself in to off-duty uniformed police officer Milton Chabla, who was moonlighting as a store security guard.
Nuss told Chabla he wanted to assure parents and authorities that the children had not been harmed and that he had a weapon on the bus. Chabla boarded the bus and found an M1 Springfield semiautomatic rifle partially covered by a coat behind the bus driver's seat. Several maps also were on the bus. A state senator told reporters he had heard Nuss was "despondent" just before he turned himself in.
Authorities interviewed Nuss and the children, who were given psychological counseling, Gulotta said. "They are fine, they're in good spirits," he told reporters.
Still, he said, "I'm sure that there must be some children that would be traumatized by being taken from their homes and showing up in Washington, D.C. This certainly wasn't the scheduled trip to school."
Nuss moved to the Oley, Pennsylvania, area four or five years ago, according to a neighbor. A former pie company worker, he'd been working for the Quigley Bus Co. for about a year as the regular driver on that route. He will be formally bound over to federal authorities in Maryland on Thursday evening, and likely will be charged in Philadelphia, federal law enforcement sources told CNN.
After spending Thursday night in federal custody in the Washington area, Nuss is expected to face a "removal" hearing Friday in a federal courtroom in Greenbelt, Maryland. Such a hearing, required when a defendant is arrested in one state and prosecuted in another, will clear the way for his return to Pennsylvania where he would be charged.
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