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Pa. School Bus Carrying Kids Found

January 24, 2002

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LANDOVER HILLS, Md. (AP) _ A school bus driver with a loaded rifle took 13 children on a more than 100-mile odyssey Thursday that ended when he turned himself in to an off-duty police officer working security at a discount store.

None of the children were hurt, much to the relief of their parents, who spent six terrifying hours awaiting word after the bus vanished on the way to a school northwest of Philadelphia.

What the driver had planned to do with the children was not immediately clear. Authorities said he faces federal kidnapping charges.

The bus picked up the students, ages 7 through 15, at a high school in Oley, Pa., at about 7:30 a.m. for the six-mile trip to the Berks Christian School in Birdsboro, Pa. The bus never showed up and school officials could not raise driver Otto Nuss by radio.

After a frantic search by police helicopter and cruisers in rainy, foggy weather, the bus and the youngsters were found 115 miles away, parked outside a Family Dollar store in Landover Hills, just a few miles from Washington.

Nuss, who is in his early 60s, walked into the store and approached off-duty Officer Milton Chabla, telling him he had left a gun on the bus, Prince George’s County police said. The gun was a loaded semiautomatic rifle, police said.

Nuss told Chabla he had taken the children against their will and wanted to turn himself in, police said. ``He wanted the kids to be OK and let their parents know they were OK,″ said Chabla, who was wearing his police uniform at the store.

FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi said Nuss faces federal kidnapping charges and an initial court appearance Friday.

During the search for the bus, distraught parents arrived at the Oley municipal building to await word of their children. They were later put on a bus with ministers and counselors and taken to Maryland for a reunion.

``I am totally relieved and thankful to the Lord for protecting these kids,″ Robert Becker, administrator of Berks Christian School, told WPVI-TV. ``This is the first time today I have been able to relax.″

After the driver’s arrest, some of the students, dressed in red burgundy tops and tan pants or skirts, were taken into the store. Others waited on the bus, where one waved an American flag out a window.

The students, who are in first through 10th grades, were later taken by bus to a police station.

Nuss had worked for the bus company since September, Albert said.

Cindy Calcagno, assistant transportation director for the Oley Valley School District, said she spoke with Nuss about 7:30 a.m. and he seemed fine.

``I had no inclination there, and nothing from the children either,″ she said. ``He loved the kids.″

Calcagno said Nuss had not driven a school bus before this year. He would have had to pass a commercial driver’s test, a criminal background check and a child abuse check to be hired, she said.

The school district, which is responsible for transporting private school children, contracts with Quigley Bus Service. An official at Quigley referred all questions to police.

The Berks Christian School has about 200 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, teacher Frank Love said.

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