Armed Fort Jackson trainee, 23, hijacks school bus in SC but let kids free after they constantly questioned him
Update: Fort Jackson's commander, Brig Gen Milford Beagle Jr, said that the trainee, 23, has been identified as Pvt Jovan Collazo. Richland County deputies said at some point he abandoned his government-issued M-4 carbine rifle before they arrested him. The Army said he had no access to ammunition.
Read the statement from Fort Jackson here.
RICHLAND COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA: A trainee at Fort Jackson managed to escape the army base with an M-4 rifle and went on to hijack a school bus, taking 18 children hostage. The suspect is currently in police custody. Meanwhile, all the 18 students of Forest Lake Elementary School and the bus driver are reportedly safe.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott dubbed the incident as "one of the scariest calls that we could get in law enforcement." According to a report by The Post and Courier, the children kept on asking the hijacker about what would happen to them. Eventually, their constant questioning frustrated him and he let the driver and students get off at Alpine Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
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@fortjackson officials are aware of the incident involving a trainee this morning. We are working closely with @RCSD to respond to this incident.— Fort Jackson (@fortjackson) May 6, 2021
Who was the hijacker?
The identity of the escaped trainee has not been released by Fort Jackson or the police. However, it has been found that he was in the third week of his training at the Army base when he decided to run away. On the morning of May 6, 2021, the suspect escaped from Fort Jackson armed with a rifle and dressed in physical training clothes. Officers at the base tried to capture him but he slipped through. His disappearance led to a suspension of drills while the base scrambled to locate him.
He was looking for a ride to another town when he spotted the school bus which was headed towards Forest Lake Elementary school. Around 7:15 am, he got on the bus at Percival Road while the students were boarding. He then ordered the driver to take him out of Columbia, assuring that he would not cause any harm to anyone. Frightened students frantically called up their parents, while a parent went ahead to inform a Richland sheriff deputy about the armed hijacker on the kids' bus.
Meanwhile, the anxious children kept on flooding the trainee with questions about what would happen to them. Eventually, he grew annoyed and frustrated and ordered the driver to stop the bus at Alpine Road. There, he allowed the driver and students to get off while he drove away with the bus for another mile. However, he found it difficult to drive a bus - prompting him to abandon the vehicle and his rifle on Old Percival Road. Later, he was nabbed by police officials near an overpass.
The schools in the area were placed on a lockout till the suspect was caught by the police. Sheriff Lott appreciated the bus driver for keeping his calm in such a tense situation and ensuring the safety of the kids. "I think God looked down on these kids this morning and wrapped his arms around them and took care of them,” he remarked during the media conference.
According to WYFF4, the suspect is currently facing charges of multiple counts of kidnapping. Fort Jackson's commander, Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr., said that the trainee, noted that the trainee’s actions open him up to disciplinary action, in addition to his civilian actions, such as going AWOL (absent without official leave) or theft of a weapon. Collazo's family has been informed of the serious charges against him, Fort Jackson said in a statement. The base is also conducting its own investigation into the matter.
Trainees are not allowed to start weapons training until their fourth week, and they face "shakedowns" to make sure they have no ammo on them when they leave the firing range. The trainee had his gun but was a week away from even starting his training, according to officials. Beagle Jr. said that the trainees often experience "a certain anxiety" in the early weeks after arriving at the base.