HAGERSTOWN -- The parents whose 3 1/2 -year-old son was found wandering at a Southern California shopping mall nearly a month ago were located yesterday hiking along the Appalachian Trail near the Maryland-Pennsylvania line, authorities said.
Wolfgang and Lisa Nester, who California authorities assert left Wolfgang Nester Jr. at a Montgomery Ward store in San Bernardino, were picked up by Washington County sheriff's officers about 12:30 p.m., shortly after authorities received a tip from a man who had seen the couple at a park in Pen Mar, a village that straddles the Pennsylvania-Maryland line.
The Nesters were hiking along the trail about three miles south of Pen Mar near High Rock, a scenic spot popular with hikers and hang-glider enthusiasts. Both were carrying backpacks, police said.
"I was able to approach them and they confessed to being Wolfgang and Lisa Nester," said Richard N. Ziolkowski, a sheriff's investigator. "They were real cooperative."
Lisa Nester, 24, was being held at the Washington County Detention Center in Hagerstown on $800 bond after being arrested on a bench warrant stemming from nonpayment of child support.
She allegedly owes her parents about $2,000 in back child support for their care of her other four children.
Mr. Nester, 23, was released, Mr. Ziolkowski said.
He said the father is "being cooperative" and will remain in contact with police.
"Without a warrant, we couldn't take Wolfgang into custody," Mr. Ziolkowski said.
California authorities are seeking charges of child endangerment and child abandonment against the couple, San Bernardino Detective Bill Rogers said yesterday.
"We're trying to get the warrants," Mr. Rogers said. "We have nothing at this point."
Police said the couple left the Hagerstown area May 25 and about a week later Wolfie was found in the mall. The car that the couple had driven to California was towed from in front of a neighbor's house, where it had been abandoned.
Hours after Wolfie was found, the couple was seen hitching a ride from San Bernardino to Nevada. The driver of a strawberry truck en route to Pennsylvania took them to Hagerstown. Since then, authorities were uncertain of their whereabouts. After being seen at a party in Hagerstown last weekend, they were believed to be hiking north along the Appalachian Trail or hiding in the Hagerstown area.
Thurston Griggs, a so-called "ridge runner" who patrols portions of the trail in Maryland for the state, said he saw a couple matching the Nesters' descriptions last week several miles north of Harpers Ferry, W. Va. Other hikers, he said, reported seeing the couple near Boiling Springs, Pa.
"They struck me as odd," said Mr. Griggs. "When I asked where they were from he needed prodding from her before he answered. He said he was from Los Angeles and she said she was local, from Boonsboro."
Mr. Ziolkowski speculated the couple may have turned southward from Pennsylvania after receiving a tip police were looking for them. Neither parent had issued a statement to police yet, he said.
Marjorie Savage, Lisa Nester's mother who lives in Boonsboro, about 10 miles southeast of Hagerstown, said yesterday she was glad the couple had been apprehended.
"It makes me feel so good they're caught," she said. "I just hope they jack up the jail and put them both under it. That may sound mean but they didn't have feeling for leaving that baby."
Mrs. Savage and her husband, John, already have custody of Lisa Nester's four other children, who range in age from 4 1/2 to 9. She said she and her husband are seeking custody of Wolfie, who now is in a foster home in California.
"I'm hoping and praying that I get custody of Wolfie," Mrs. Savage said. "I have four now but there's always room for one more."