November 03, 2008 12:00 PM

It was 10:30 at night on a dark street in Las Vegas—no time and place for a young child to be out wandering alone. So when a passing bus driver spotted the youngster on Oct. 18, he stopped to offer a ride. As the boy walked up, he said, “Can you take me home?” It turned out he was 6-year-old Cole Puffinburger, who four days earlier had triggered an Amber Alert after he was kidnapped at gunpoint from his grandfather’s Las Vegas home. Hours later the first grader, who had not been harmed, was back with his overjoyed father, Robert, who told a packed news conference, “I’m just so glad he’s safe.”

But that still left the mystery of why Cole had been snatched in the first place. The two abductors, who posed as police officers, had tied up the boy’s mother and her boyfriend and ransacked the modest ranch-style home of her father, Clemens Tinnemeyer. According to authorities, the kidnapping may have been a form of retaliation against Tinnemeyer, whom investigators suspected of involvement in the drug trade. Capt. Vincent Cannito of the Las Vegas Police Department said that Tinnemeyer may have “stolen a large sum of money”—perhaps millions of dollars, according to another official—from a Mexican gang. The day before Cole was released, the FBI detained Tinnemeyer in California as a material witness in the kidnapping case. (His lawyer declined comment to the Associated Press.)

Neighbors were reluctant to talk about the family given their alleged drug connection. But one did describe the steady stream of cars that would pull up to the Tinnemeyer home. “Cars were coming day and night,” says the neighbor. Another said they rarely saw Cole. No one could imagine the ordeal he had been forced to endure. “It’s a shame,” says one neighbor, “this poor kid got roped into something he wasn’t involved with.”

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