ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — An investigation into an attempted abduction at a Mennonite family's home in Rockingham County has taken a turn to become a much bigger, even more disturbing case.
In July of 2018, 30-year-old Frank Jesse Amnott, of Pensacola, Florida, was arrested at the end of a hostage situation on Waggys Creek Road in Ottobine after a standoff with the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies said at the time that when they got to a home along the road, Amnott was holding a Mennonite family at gunpoint after breaking into their home. He was charged with armed burglary, conspiracy to commit felony, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, abduction and kidnapping, and brandishing a firearm.
But deputies were still searching for the "why" in the weeks afterward and for other suspects believed to be involved in the case.
Now, Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson says the case turned out to be a lot bigger than they knew and is moving to a federal level.
The sheriff's office quickly determined that additional suspects were involved, and the alleged activities of those suspects crossed not only state, but international lines.
“We have been working very closely with the FBI in conducting our investigation," said Hutcheson. "This was a very peculiar incident from the start and going beyond that, there is much more involved than anyone would have possibly expected."
He went on to say it's "nothing short of amazing that nobody got hurt" in the case, and praised the deputy who took Amnott into custody without the family coming to harm.
A copy of the federal criminal complaint against Amnott, obtained by WHSV, details alarming charges against him.
The complaint alleges that Amnott conspired with others to kidnap five children, travel in interstate commerce, transport the victims across state lines, and use a cell phone as a means of foreign commerce from March 2018 to July 29, 2018, "within western Virginia and elsewhere."
It also alleges that Amnott conspired with others "known to the United States Attorney" to kill the parents of the children (two sets of parents – one with three children and one with two children) to prevent them reporting the abductions to police.
Commonwealth Attorney Marsha Garst said all local charges against Amnott will be dropped as the court pursues federal charges against him instead.
"At this time we have determined that the most effective means of prosecuting this case is in the Federal Court System," Garst said. "It provides us with the best possible outcome for our local victims as well as the most appropriate sentencing guidelines for the suspects responsible for the crimes."
Amnott faces multiple charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and conspiracy to kill witnesses, as well as a charge of brandishing a firearm in relation to crimes of violence.
He is being held without the chance for bail because the court found that he was a risk of both fleeing and of posing danger to others.
According to sworn testimony listed in court records, Amnott, now 31, worked as a registered nurse.
A change of plea hearing is scheduled for July 16, 2019, where he is expected to plead guilty. Who the "others known to the United States Attorney" involved the case may be has not been revealed at this point.
Hutcheson said in a press release that "there are still many unanswered questions regarding this matter" and that there were no further updates they could provide on a local level. He emphasized that there is no ongoing danger to anyone in Rockingham County.