COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Authorities say a Fort Jackson trainee has been arrested after hijacking a school bus with children aboard – armed with a rifle – early Thursday morning near Columbia.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said it happened around 7:00 a.m. when the trainee, who was dressed in PT clothes, ran from his post and attempted to flag down drivers on I-77.
Fort Jackson is the U.S. Army’s largest and most active basic training facility.
After he was unable to get a ride from cars on the interstate, Sheriff Lott said the trainee moved to Percival Road where he approached a bus stop with kids boarding the transportation. The bus was headed for Forest Lake Elementary.
The trainee entered the bus behind the children and told the driver that he did not want to hurt him, but instead wanted to be driven to the next town.
Sheriff Lott said a Richland County sheriff’s deputy was stopped by a parent who said their child was on a school bus and that someone boarded the bus with a gun.
“Probably one of the scariest calls that we could get in law enforcement is that a school bus has been hijacked with kids on it with someone with a gun,” said Sheriff Lott.
According to Lott, the trainee moved the children to the front of the bus, where they began asking him a lot of questions, like if he was going to hurt them or the bus driver.
Sheriff Lott said the trainee became agitated and stopped the bus near the intersection of Alpine and Percival roads in Columbia where the kids and bus driver exited. They were not injured.
The suspect drove the bus a few miles until he abandoned the vehicle and rifle. He was going through nearby neighborhoods trying to get rides and clothes when deputies and a civilian spotted the man.
He was arrested without incident, according to Lott. The suspect will face several charges including kidnapping.
“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.”
Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said counseling services were made available to the students upon their arrival at the elementary school.
Fort Jackson Commander Brigadier General Milford Beagle Jr. held a news conference just after 1:00 p.m., saying 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 others 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.
Portions of this story are from our sister station, WSPA-TV, in Spartanburg.