RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – The Richland County Sheriff’s Department said a Fort Jackson Army trainee left the base Thursday morning and hijacked a school bus.
Sheriff Leon Lott said the trainee was wearing physical training clothes when he left the base at about 7 a.m. with a rifle.
Lott said someone called the sheriff’s office about a man attempting to flag down cars on Interstate 77. Shortly after, a deputy was stopped on Percival Road by a parent of one of the students on the school bus. The parent told the deputy that their child was on the bus and there was a man with a gun on the bus, Lott said.
Lott said after the trainee didn’t get picked up on the interstate, he noticed some students were waiting at a bus stop on Percival Road.
After all of the Forest Lake Elementary School students got onto the bus, the trainee got on the bus with his rifle and told the driver he did not want to hurt them. He also told the driver to take him to the next town, Lott said.
The bus driver started driving, and the trainee brought all of the students to the front of the bus, Lott said. The students started asking the trainee several questions.
The trainee got frustrated and then made the driver and the 18 elementary school students get off of the bus.
The trainee drove the bus for a few miles before abandoning the bus. Lott said he left the rifle on the bus.
Lott said the trainee ran through a neighborhood, attempting to get a ride and find new clothes.
Deputies spotted the trainee near Percival Road and I-77. He was arrested without incident.
No injuries were reported.
“I have been on the board now for over 10 years, and I’ve never received a call that scared me as much as the call that I got this morning. That a bus had been hijacked with our students and staff,” Richland School District Two School Board Chairman James Manning said. “We’re very happy that they’re safe.”
Fort Jackson Commander Brigadier General Milford Beagle Jr. held a news conference just after 1 p.m. He said the 23-year-old soldier in training from New Jersey jumped their fence line during “personal hygiene time” before breakfast.
Gen. Beagle said he had been in training for three weeks. He also said they do not issue ammunition to trainees therefore he did not have ammunition in his rifle during the hijacking incident. He said the trainee took the rifle with him so that other’s would not immediately know that he was missing.
The general said they believe that the trainee’s intent was to get back home. They do not believe that he had any intent to harm others or himself.
The sheriff’s office said he will be charged with several counts of kidnapping as well as other charges.
“You can just imagine they were scared to death,” Lott said. “I’ll give the bus driver credit. He kept his cool. He didn’t overreact. … His main concern was those kids and he did his job.”
Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said counseling services were made available to the students upon their arrival at the elementary school.
Richland School District Two released the following statement:
“We are so fortunate and grateful that this incident ended peacefully thanks to the actions of our bus driver, our students, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the City of Columbia Police Department, the S.C. Highway Patrol and other first responders,” said Dr. Baron R. Davis, Superintendent of Richland School District Two.
The driver’s calm response exemplified the training he received through a Safe Pupil Training course. This course is required training for district bus drivers.
Davis said, “Once we were certain all students were accounted for and physically safe, we immediately began deploying social and emotional counseling resources to the school so that our students could begin the process of healing as they are dealing with a traumatic event. We will continue to provide counseling services for the students and their families, our bus driver and employees as long as necessary. We will also cooperate fully with law enforcement as they investigate this incident.”
Fort Jackson released the following statement:
“A Fort Jackson trainee ran away from his unit this morning with his Army
issued rifle. The trainee managed to hijack a school bus before being
subdued to Richland County Sherriff Department in the vicinity of Percival
Fort Jackson leaders are aware and working closely with Richland County
Sherriff Department throughout the initial stages of this incident.
This was a failure in our accountability procedures that we truly regret and
are apologetic to our community.
We are thankful for the fast actions of RCSD and the local community to
assist in the apprehension of the individual.”
We will update this story as information becomes available.