Cole Puffinburger had been missing for four full days when a Las Vegas bus driver spotted the 6-year-old boy standing on a street corner in 2008.
The bus driver, Julio Diaz, testified Friday during the federal trial of two men accused of kidnapping Cole from his Las Vegas home. The witness said he and his two female passengers saw the boy at Oakey Boulevard and 17th street around 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2008.
"For that time of the day, I thought that something was not right," Diaz said.
A surveillance camera in the Regional Transportation Commission paratransit bus recorded the reactions of Diaz and his passengers, as well as Cole’s first words after he was found. Prosecutors played it for the jury Friday.
As those on the bus notice that the boy is alone, a woman can be heard saying, "This is serious, after that little boy was just kidnapped."
News accounts of Cole’s kidnapping circulated nationwide after his disappearance on the morning of Oct. 15, 2008, but the bus riders did not immediately realize they had found the missing boy.
Two men, Jose "Miguel" Lopez-Buelna and Luis Vega-Rubio, face kidnapping and drug charges in connection with Cole’s disappearance. Prosecutors allege Cole was abducted at gunpoint as revenge after his grandfather, Clemens Tinnemeyer, stole $4.5 million from Mexican drug traffickers.
But defense lawyers have accused the boy’s mother and grandmother of staging the kidnapping to lure Tinnemeyer out of hiding with the money. The lawyers said evidence will show that Cole was treated well during his four days away from home — time he spent playing games and watching movies.
The bus camera recorded Cole calmly asking the driver to take him to "Greymouth." His mother, Julie Puffinburger, owns a home on Greymouth Street.
Cole tells the driver he needs a ride because somebody left him.
"Are you running away from home?" a passenger asks in a grandmotherly tone.
"No," Cole replies.
A woman is heard asking Cole, seen wearing a hooded jacket, for his mother’s telephone number. After the boy recites it, she calls and reaches voice mail. The next call is to 911.
At the same time, Diaz can be heard phoning a supervisor.
During the passenger’s 911 call, she asks Cole for his last name. After a couple of attempts to pronounce the name, she tells the dispatcher "Puffinburger."
The passenger apparently did not recognize the name, but the dispatcher did. The passenger informs the others that Cole’s parents reported him missing.
"No, he looks fine," she tells the dispatcher, describing the boy as intelligent and dressed in warm clothing.
"He’s so calm, it’s amazing," she says.
She describes all of the boy’s clothing for the dispatcher. She also tells the dispatcher he is wearing glasses and "has beautiful blue eyes." She then checks his hair color and describes it as blond.
"He’s sitting here very quietly and well-behaved," the woman says. "He doesn’t seem concerned."
Later she asks the boy when he last saw his mother.
"Oh my gosh," she relays to the dispatcher. "He said he hasn’t seen his mother since Wednesday."
Cole was found on a Saturday night.
Later in the video, one of the passengers asks, "Cole, you know who you were with, don’t you?"
He tells her he was with a "guy" who knows his grandfather.
A woman then can be heard remarking, "Something is not right here."
Prosecutors then stopped the video.
U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro is presiding over the trial, which is scheduled to resume Monday.
Julie Puffinburger last week denied allegations that she staged the kidnapping. She said she, her fiance and Cole were in their Cherry Grove Avenue home, near Hollywood and Lake Mead boulevards, when intruders entered around 7 a.m. and took the boy at gunpoint. She said the family was moving and had spent its last night in there.
Tinnemeyer, who is in custody, testified last week. He admitted he ran off after finding "a big pile of money" hidden in a motor home he used to deliver drugs. Authorities later found more than $3.5 million of the cash in a Riverside, Calif., storage unit. Defense attorneys have alleged that Tinnemeyer stole $8 million in drug money.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.