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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 18:01 GMT
School bus driver faces kidnap charges
Children on the school bus with police
The children were returned to their parents safely
A school bus driver in America is facing kidnapping charges after taking 13 schoolchildren on an impromptu 16-hour ride to another state while armed with a rifle.

He told us we all needed a wake-up call and that we were going to learn something

Schoolchild Tyler Rudolph
Otto Nuss, 63, was taken into police custody on Thursday night after taking the children, aged between 7 and 15, on a 185 kilometre (115 mile) road trip from Berks Christian School in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania to Landover Hills, Maryland, on the outskirts of the nation's capital.

The motive for his actions remains unclear, although one of his friends told the Associated Press news agency that Mr Nuss had been on anti-depressants for several years and had only recently come off them.

The children's journey began on Thursday morning, when Mr Nuss picked them up from their homes.

'Having fun'

Instead of beginning the 10 km (6 mile) drive to school, the children said that Mr Nuss told them he wanted to show them the nations' capital, Washington DC.

Bus driver Otto Nuss with FBI officials
Mr Nuss now faces federal kidnap charges
"He never touched anybody," said a 13 year-old child.

"We were having fun. We were having cars honk their horns."

Children said Mr Nuss asked them to help him plan their route and even took them to a Burger King restaurant for lunch. However, some became concerned when they spotted a rifle hidden behind the driver's seat.

Others said they became afraid after Mr Nuss repeatedly ignored radio dispatchers' efforts to contact him.

One student also reportedly wrote '911', the American phone code for emergency services, on the back of the bus in the hope other motorists would read it.

Meanwhile, in their home town police helicopters were scrambled and parents and residents began frantic searches for their children.

Emotional reunion

The children's journey ended 16 hours later when Mr Nuss pulled over in Landover Hills, not far from Washington, and approached an off-duty police officer to give himself up.

Children and parents were brought together in an emotional reunion at a Maryland police station before being bussed back to their home town of Oley in Pennsylvania.

Their school later held a special ceremony of thanks for the children's safe return, although some insist it seemed more like a fun day out than a potential hostage situation.

"He told us we all needed a wake-up call and that we were going to learn something," said 15 year-old Tyler Rudolph.

"And he was going to learn something, too."

However one father described the incident as "the most horrible thing I've ever experienced".

Mr Nuss had passed both a criminal background and a child abuse check, and Cindy Calcagno, assistant transportation director for the school district, said she had no inclination that Mr Nuss would perform such an act.

"I had no inclination there, and nothing from the children, either," she said.

"He loved the kids."

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