(FORT JACKSON, S.C.) — A Fort Jackson trainee is in custody after allegedly hijacking a South Carolina elementary school bus with 18 children on board, authorities said.
The Forest Lake Elementary students and the bus driver are safe, Richland County Sheriff Lott said at a news conference.
Lott called this “one of the scariest calls that we could get in law enforcement.”
The incident began around 7 a.m. Thursday when the suspect allegedly fled Fort Jackson, Lott said.
The children had boarded the bus when the suspect, armed with a rifle, got on at the bus stop and allegedly “told the bus driver he didn’t want to hurt him, but he wanted him to drive him to the next town,” Lott said.
The bus driver started driving and the suspect brought the children to the front of the bus, Lott said.
“The kids started asking lots of questions to the suspect if he was going to hurt them or the bus driver,” Lott said.
“The suspect got a little frustrated,” Lott said, and the driver pulled over.
The children and the bus driver got off safely.
The suspect then drove the bus for a few miles before abandoning it, leaving the rifle inside, Lott said.
The suspect was spotted by deputies and civilians and was arrested without incident, Lott said. The trainee, believed to be in his third week at Fort Jackson, will be charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, Lott said. His name has not been released.
Some of the children had cellphones. Lott said authorities were alerted to the situation when a parent stopped a deputy to say “there was a man with a gun on the school bus.”
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.”
Counseling services were immediately deployed to the elementary school, officials said.
“You can just imagine, they were scared to death, along with that bus driver,” Lott 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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