An Army trainee was arrested Thursday morning in South Carolina after allegedly hijacking a school bus with 18 students onboard. Law enforcement officials say he’ll now face multiple kidnapping charges.
The trainee, armed with a rifle and dressed in physical training gear, allegedly boarded a school bus that was headed to Forest Lake Elementary in Columbia, South Carolina, after fleeing Fort Jackson, a nearby basic training base, at about 7 a.m. The trainee told the bus driver he didn’t want to hurt him, but needed a ride to the next town, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said during a Thursday morning press conference.
The children and the driver were eventually able to get off the bus unharmed.
“The bus driver started driving, and the trainee brought the kids to the front of the bus,” Lott said. “The kids started asking lots of questions to the suspect about whether he was going to hurt them or the bus driver. The suspect got a little frustrated.”
The bus then stopped, and the kids and driver exited the vehicle. Lott said the Fort Jackson trainee then started driving the bus, but had trouble controlling it. He eventually fled on foot, leaving the rifle on the bus, according to Lott.
“[He] went through neighborhoods trying to get rides, trying to get clothes,” he said. Police soon caught up with the suspect; Lott said he was in his third week of training at Fort Jackson and was “arrested without incident.”
“He’ll be charged with multiple counts of kidnapping and whatever charges we can put on him,” Lott added.
The entire incident lasted about an hour. The needs of the students involved are being addressed, Lott said.
“You can just imagine they were scared to death, along with that bus driver,” he said. “I will give the bus driver credit — he kept his cool. He didn’t overreact. He didn’t get excited. He kept his cool enough that kept the situation calm. And I will tell you his main concern was the safety of those kids, and he did his job.”
Officials at Fort Jackson said they were aware of the incident involving the trainee and were working closely with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to respond. No additional details about the trainee or the events leading up to the bus hijacking were provided by the Army.
Baron Davis, superintendent of Richland School District, said receiving the phone call about an armed man hijacking a school bus was horrifying.
“I’ve never been as scared in my life,” he said. “… every child is a precious child to all of us, and it was one of the … scariest phone calls — so many emotions.”
Lott said the initial call his department received was about a man trying to wave down cars on Interstate 77. A parent of one of the children on the bus later flagged down a deputy to alert them that an armed man was on the school bus.
The trainee got onto the bus at Percival Road while it was stopped to pick up children, Lott said.