Fort Jackson apologizes for S.C. school bus hijacking; suspect identified
COLUMBIA, S.C. - A Fort Jackson trainee boarded a school bus with a gun this morning, but the suspect has been arrested and the students and bus driver are safe, authorities say.
It all started around 7 a.m. Thursday when a trainee dressed in a physical training uniform took an M4 rifle, jumped a fence and left the post.
Officials say the 23-year-old trainee, identified as Jovan Collazo of New Jersey, got on the bus with his rifle as the driver was letting children on at a bus stop on Percival Road at Eagle Park Road.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Sheriff said 18 students were getting on the bus to go to Forest Lake Elementary in Richland School District Two.
“You can just imagine they were scared to death,” Lott said.
The trainee, who’d been at Fort Jackson for about three weeks, told the bus driver he didn’t want to hurt him but wanted a ride to the next town, authorities said.
The bus driver started driving, while the trainee brought the kids to the front of bus.
It was a tense situation for the kids, authorities said, as they asked the man if he was going to hurt them.
The gunman became frustrated, authorities said, and the bus came to a stop.
The bus driver and kids got off the bus, and the trainee drove the bus for a time before abandoning it and leaving the rifle on board, authorities said.
The soldier went through the neighborhood trying to get a ride, authorities said, and witnesses reported him.
Deputies came to the neighborhood and arrested him, authorities said.
He’ll be charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, authorities said.
‘A failure in our accountability procedures’
Fort Jackson officials notified law enforcement that the soldier had left the post, but admitted he’d been gone for brief time before they noticed.
Officials from the installation issued a statement taking responsibility for the hijacking.
“This was a failure in our accountability procedures that we truly regret and are apologetic to our community,” officials said. “We are thankful for the fast actions of RCSD and the local community to assist in the apprehension of the individual.”
The trainee’s rifle was not loaded, Fort Jackson officials confirmed.
“But to those in the community — those on the bus would not have known that,” Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr. said. “In training, no ammunition is issued three weeks in.”
Beagle said the trainee, who has been at Fort Jackson for three weeks, was likely trying to get home, and his counselors on post said he was “very quiet.”
“There is nothing that leads us to believe, through his counseling and his screening records coming in, that this had anything to do with harming others, harming himself, or anything that links to any other type of nefarious activities,” Beagle said.
The commander added “there are better ways to deal with that.”
Beagle apologized to the community and took responsibility for the base’s failure to be accountable for all their trainees.
“Because the outcome potentially could have been much worse,” Beagle said. “We are thankful, very grateful that it was not. But that leads me to what procedures to change here in the future so we don’t have an incident of this nature.”
‘So happy that the students and the staff are safe’
Authorities and educators right now are addressing the needs of the kids, who were unharmed but are suffering psychological distress. Superintendent Dr. Baron R. Davis said counselors were immediately deployed where the students were arriving, while the district also started reaching out to parents.
“We are so happy that the students and the staff are safe,” school board Chairman James Manning said.
“I’ve never received a call that scared me as much as the call this morning.”
The sheriff was full of praise for the bus driver.
“I would give the bus driver credit,” Lott said. “He kept his cool. He kept the situation calm. His major concern was the safety of those kids.
During the pursuit of the suspect, multiple schools in the area were placed into lockout as a precaution. A lockout means students outside were brought in and no one was allowed to enter or leave the building.
“It was a very scary situation that, fortunately for everybody, turned out well,” the sheriff said.
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