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Was it kidnapping or vacation?

A woman's ex takes their kids after Christmas. She gets the long-awaited phone call Monday.

By THOMAS LAKE
Published March 6, 2007


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This story has some pieces missing, mostly in the motive department, including why Steven Travis Bush took his daughters on an unscheduled road trip to South Dakota with their grandmother who was now his wife.

It ends in Pasco County, as many of your stranger works of short nonfiction do, but it starts in Douglas, Ga., on the day after Christmas, when a mother named Amory Delk had a premonition.

Bush, 34, the man she had divorced about 10 years ago, had come to take their daughters, Wyeth, 13, and McKell, 11, to the park.

She couldn't stop him, since he had visitation rights, but she could hand them her home and work phone numbers.

Call me if he tries anything, she said.

They never called.

He called once the night they left, to say he was taking them to see her mother, Rebecca Bush, whom he had married some time within the past five years.

Then the lines of communication closed.

* * *

Delk went to the police about a week later. She prayed. And she heard nothing about her daughters until January, when her mother called. She was stranded in South Dakota.

Five of them had driven out there in a borrowed Dodge Caravan: the girls, their grandmother, their father and his friend Billy Wallace Jr. Somewhere along the way, Steven Bush tired of his new wife.

He left her in a Wal-Mart parking lot in the middle of a blizzard, McKell would later tell a deputy.

Why did you leave Nana? she asked.

"Because," he said, "Nana is like the Titanic, a sinking ship."

* * *

There are two ways to see this story, and the truth may be somewhere between them.

One says it was something of an abduction. Bush has "a history of violence and sex offenses," according to an incident report from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

The girls said he cut their long hair short and dyed it from sandy blond to brown. Once he left them in a motel and told them if they called anyone he would find out, because surveillance cameras were rolling.

The other way says it was a vacation. Bush took the girls to Disney World, bought them video games, gave them a pet chihuahua.

They wound up in New Port Richey last week, at Wallace's parents' house. They had come to check on Wallace's father, who was having an operation. The girls seemed happy, according to Wallace's mother, Luella. They baked cupcakes and went fishing and helped do the laundry.

When Luella Wallace asked why they weren't in school, their father said he was homeschooling them. But it was this issue that made Bush a wanted man.

* * *

Georgia authorities put out a warrant on a charge of cruelty to children. According to Detective Tim Allmond of the Douglas Ga. Police Department, it had nothing to do with physical abuse. It was because he kept them out of school.

It was Rebecca Bush, back in South Dakota, who provided a crucial piece of information: the Caravan's tag number. She went back to the mechanic shop where they'd had the van's oil changed. She didn't remember the tag number, but someone there did. Soon it was entered into a national warrants database.

Late Sunday night, on U.S. 19 in Holiday, Pasco County Deputy David Calianno was running random tag numbers through his onboard computer when he got a hit. He was looking at a Dodge Caravan connected to a missing-children case out of Georgia. He pulled it over and found Steven Bush in the passenger seat.

Bush, who was staying at 6252 Pennsylvania Ave., New Port Richey, was arrested on the Georgia warrant. He was held without bail Monday at the Land O'Lakes jail.

The girls were found at the same address. They were not harmed.

Sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning, Delk's phone rang.

"I have two girls here who are dying to talk to you," a deputy said.

Twenty minutes later she was on the road, headed south.

Thomas Lake can be reached at (727) 869-6245 or tlake@sptimes.com Sources for this story include incident reports from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and interviews with Amory Delk, Luella Wallace and Detective Tim Allmond of the Douglas (Ga.) Police Department. Steven Travis Bush declined an interview request.

[Last modified March 5, 2007, 23:30:38]


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