Abducted Nev. boy returned to his father

Monday, October 20, 2008

LAS VEGAS -- As abruptly as he was taken, Cole Puffinburger reappeared. What happened to the youngster in between is still a mystery.

In an abduction that Las Vegas police Capt. Vincent Cannito called "as bad as it gets," the slight 6-year-old was taken from his home Wednesday morning by men posing as police officers. Authorities suspect Mexican drug dealers with a grudge against Cole's grandfather.

A nationwide search included placement of Cole's picture on television, billboards and highway signs. Police worried he might have been taken to Mexico. They targeted a Hispanic neighborhood in Las Vegas, tracing a network of the boy's relatives and friends.

And then late Saturday, Cole turned up, wandering in front for a church in a residential neighborhood near the Las Vegas Strip, only a few miles from his home.

Police searched for an explanation Sunday.

"We're speaking with the boy today," FBI spokesman David Staretz said. "I know he's being interviewed by law enforcement, and we'll probably get a better idea of where he's been."

Cole's father, Robert Puffinburger, was visibly relieved at a news conference, as he smiled, cried and thanked police and neighbors for helping to bring Cole home.

"I'm just so glad he's safe," his father said.

Cole was found by a bus driver who spotted the child alone and was concerned, said Jacob Snow, a general manager for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. The driver pulled over to see if he was OK.

"Cole approached the bus and asked the driver, 'Can you take me home?"' Snow said.

Cole told the driver and riders that he had been dropped off just a few minutes before, Snow said.

Cole was found in "extremely good condition" but was taken to University Medical Center as a precaution, Cannito said.

He was treated and released to his father's care early Sunday, hospital spokesman Rick Plummer said.

On Sunday, a blue painted sign stood in the yard of the home from which the boy was abducted after the kidnappers tied up his mother and boyfriend, then ransacked it.

"Welcome Home Cole," it read.

The home appeared sparsely furnished, with a bare mattress on the living room floor. No one answered the door.

Robert Puffinburger would not comment on Cole's mother or her father, 51-year-old Clemens Tinnemeyer, who police say may have stolen millions from dealers involved in trafficking methamphetamine.

Tinnemeyer was scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate Monday in Riverside, Calif. He was arrested there Friday and was being held in nearby San Bernardino on a material witness warrant issued by a federal court in Nevada.

Las Vegas police didn't know whether Tinnemeyer had a lawyer. Police have declined to elaborate on what role he played in the drug operation or whether the kidnappers were seeking a ransom.

Tinnemeyer described himself as a carpenter of 22 years when he and his wife, Diane, filed for bankruptcy in 2001. They live in an older Las Vegas neighborhood of weathered rambler-style homes on acre lots. A rooster crowed from a nearby yard Sunday.

The Tinnemeyers have lived there for close to 20 years, according to a neighbor who didn't want to be identified because he feared for his safety.

Until about two years ago, the house was busy with cars coming and going, he said. Cole was often at the home in the care of his grandmother, who works in a lunchroom of the local elementary school.

Tinnemeyer spent time in what he said was a recording studio behind the home, the neighbor said. He left in a motor home in May. The neighbor said he continued to see Diane Tinnemeyer daily but had not seen her husband since.

Messages left at a number believed to be for the Tinnemeyer home were not returned. A black pickup truck sat in the driveway Sunday, but no one came to the door.

As authorities continued to piece together the puzzle of Cole's abduction, Staretz said officials were still seeking a "person of interest," a Mexican citizen identified as Jesus Gastelum.

Gastelum, who is in his mid-30s, is believed to be in Las Vegas or Southern California, police said. Another "person of interest" in police custody was not identified.

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