A Fort Jackson trainee is in custody after allegedly hijacking a South Carolina school bus with 18 children on board, authorities say.
At a news conference, Richland County Sheriff Lott said that the Forest Lake Elementary students and the bus driver are all safe. The 23-year-old trainee’s weapon did not have ammunition, said Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr. at a press conference, adding that the children and driver could not have known that. Sheriff Lott called this “one of the scariest calls that we could get in law enforcement.”
The incident began around 7 a.m. on Thursday when the suspect allegedly fled Fort Jackson, said Lott. The children had boarded the bus when the suspect, armed with a rifle, got on at a bus stop and “told the bus driver he didn’t want to hurt him, but he wanted him to drive him to the next town,” according to Lott.
At that point, the bus driver began driving as the suspect brought the children to the front of the bus. “The kids started asking lots of questions to the suspect if he was going to hurt them or the bus driver,” said Lott. “The suspect got a little frustrated,” Lott said, and the driver pulled over. The children and the bus driver got off of the bus safely. The suspect then drove the bus for a few miles before abandoning it, leaving the rifle inside. He was then spotted by deputies and civilians and arrested without incident. Authorities say that the trainee, believed to be in his third week at Fort Jackson, will be charged with multiple counts of kidnapping. Beagle said that he believes the trainee was only trying to get home to New Jersey, and did not intend to inflict harm upon anyone. His name has not been released.
Fort Jackson officials issued an apology, saying, “This was a failure in our accountability procedures that we truly regret and are apologetic to our community.” Richland County School Board Chairman James Manning said, “I’ve been on the board now for over 10 years and I have never received a call that scared me as much as the call that I received this morning—that a bus had been hijacked with our students and staff.” The students were taken to school “where they received support from school employees and counselors and were reunited with their parents/guardians,” the school district said. Lott praised the bus driver who he said “kept his cool” and “kept the situation calm.” “His main concern was the safety of those kids and he did his job,” Lott said.
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