State troopers say they found three young boys asleep and near a gun inside a running pickup truck at a Chester County Walmart on Christmas Eve. The boys' parents were nowhere to be found.
One of the boys later told investigators his stepfather, Harold Nuse, had also fed him crystal meth.
"Guns and drugs don't mix with children," District Attorney Tom Hogan said.
Hogan announced child endangerment and drug charges against the 43-year-old Nuse Wednesday.
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"Instead of caring for these children, the defendant was putting them at grave risk of death or serious injury," Hogan said. "We are lucky police intervened."
Nuse was arrested in the early hours of Dec. 24 after state troopers investigating a DUI in the Walmart parking lot in Sadsbury Township noticed an unrelated Chevy Silverado running in the lot around 3:45 a.m. In the pickup, they saw three young boys sleeping in the back and a handgun in plain view on the center console.
Temps were near freezing at the time, Hogan said. Troopers woke up the boys, aged 6, 8 and 11, who said they didn't know when their parents would return.
About 30 minutes later, Nuse and his wife, Brandy, returned from shopping for Christmas gifts at the Walmart, a criminal complaint said. Brandy Nuse is the biological mother of all three boys and Nuse is their stepfather, Hogan said.
Police arrested both parents and the boys were handed over to family members.
Nuse later told investigators he and his wife had been out all night collecting scrap metal and he didn't think there was any harm leaving the sleeping children alone in the running truck.
Nuse told police they could find the bullets to the unloaded gun above the front seat visor, a criminal complaint said. He also told investigators that they may find a small amount of meth in the truck.
County detectives and state police spoke to the boys in January after a family member alerted police of alleged abuse, investigators said.
One of the boys told the investigators that on at least five occasions, Nuse took him to a shed on their Honey Brook property and made him stick a chunk of methamphetamine under his tongue to dissolve. The boy said his mother was present during some of the instances and that if he spit out the substance, Nuse forced him to put it back in his mouth, a criminal complaint said.
The child said the white substance looked like a "weird gem" and didn't taste good, Hogan said. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says methamphetamine can appear to be shiny, rock-like substance with a bitter taste.
Both Harold and Brandy Nuse face child endangerment charges. Harold Nuse also faces drug charges.
Both Nuses remain jailed, unable to post $75,000, according to court records.
Brandy Nuse's court-appointed attorney Mark Conte, of West Chester-based Law Offices of Kelly & Conte, asked that people not rush to judgment. He said that all the evidence in this case has yet to be presented. He also said his client denies being present when the child was allegedly being fed drugs.
Harold Nuse's public defender hasn't responded to NBC10's request for comment.