A school bus driver faces federal kidnapping charges for taking 13 children on a seven-hour, 115-mile trip that began in Pennsylvania and ended in Prince George’s County yesterday afternoon.
Police said none of the children was harmed, and the ordeal ended when the bus driver, Otto L. Nuss, 63, of Boyertown, Pa., parked the bus outside a Family Dollar store in the 3700 block of Annapolis Road in Landover Hills at 2 p.m. and surrendered to an off-duty police officer.
“He told them he had some kids from Oley, Pennsylvania, and he brought them to see Washington, D.C.,” FBI Special Agent Peter Gulotta said.
Prince George’s County Police Officer Milton Chabla, who was working part time in uniform at the store and had a squad car parked outside, said Mr. Nuss told him he wanted the children to be OK and wanted their parents to know they were OK.
“He seemed a little nervous, but he seemed like he wanted to turn himself over to the authorities,” Officer Chabla said.
Mr. Nuss also told Officer Chabla he had a weapon on the bus. Officer Chabla found a loaded .308-caliber semiautomatic rifle wrapped in a coat behind the driver’s seat.
Children who were interviewed by the FBI said they saw the rifle behind Mr. Nuss and that he told them not to go near it.
According to an FBI affidavit, some of the students said they were afraid Mr. Nuss was going to kill them.
“One of the students, fearing what was going to happen, wrote 911 in reverse on a fogged bus window,” according to the affidavit from FBI Special Agent Thomas D. Neeson.
The children, whose ages ranged from 7 to 15, were picked up at about 7:30 a.m. from a high school in Oley, Pa., for the six-mile trip to Berks Christian Academy in Exeter, Pa.
“They made a different turn and next thing you know they ended up here in Prince George’s County,” Mr. Gulotta said.
When the bus didn’t show up at the private school and school officials couldn’t reach Mr. Nuss on his two-way radio, police and residents began searching while distraught parents gathered at a municipal building to await word.
Police said the first indication the bus was in Maryland came when a civilian employee with the Prince George’s County Police Department recognized the bus from news accounts as it left the Inner Loop of the Beltway at Route 202 at about 1:45 p.m. The employee called authorities.
Police said the employee saw the children waving their arms out the windows.
Mr. Nuss surrendered about 15 minutes later, and a police officer who arrived on the scene let the children use his cell phone to contact their parents.
The children were kept on the bus until 3 p.m., when a Prince George’s County school bus arrived to take them to police headquarters.
They waved to reporters from the windows of their bus and as police escorted them, three at a time, into the store to use the restroom.
Mr. Gulotta declined to discuss Mr. Nuss’ motive for abducting the children, nor would he say whether Mr. Nuss had any history of criminal or mental problems. He said he did not know of any ties Mr. Nuss might have to the Washington area.
Cindy Calcagno, assistant transportation director for the Oley Valley School District, said she spoke with Mr. Nuss at about 7:30 a.m. and that he seemed fine.
“I had no inclination there, and nothing from the children either,” she said. “He loved the kids.”
Mr. Nuss had passed both criminal and child-abuse background checks, Oley Valley School Superintendent Jeffrey Zackon said.
Mr. Nuss lived alone, and Miss Calcagno said he had never been married and had no children.
Police said the children told them Mr. Nuss had been their bus driver since September. There was no evidence the children had been mistreated, Mr. Gulotta said, adding that food receipts had been found on the bus. He said he did not know whether the bus had made any other stops during the day.
Mr. Gulotta said the children, who received psychological counseling, appeared to be unharmed and were free to leave with their parents, who arrived by bus about 7 p.m.
Several children could be seen through the windows of the police station playing as they waited for their parents to arrive.
“They’re having a good time, and they’re in good spirits,” said Julia Patterson of the county’s community services division. Ms. Patterson said they had ordered food from McDonald’s and pizza.
She said the kids had no idea of the magnitude of their ordeal.
“Now they do because they’ve been watching the news,” she said. The group of parents and children left police headquarters at about 8:45 p.m.
Mr. Nuss was taken to the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville last night and is expected to appear in federal court in Greenbelt today.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.