An Army trainee in his third week of boot camp on Thursday is accused of hijacking a bus filled with children on their way to elementary school in South Carolina. He was later arrested after allowing the children and driver to get off the bus.
The children and the bus driver all escaped injury, according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
“This was probably one of the scariest calls we could get in law enforcement,” Sheriff Lott told reporters.
The incident happened about 7 a.m. near Fort Jackson, S.C. The unidentified Army trainee was armed with a rifle and in his physical training clothes when he left the base. After apparently failing to get a ride from morning commuters, the trainee saw a group of children waiting for their school bus, authorities said.
“The trainee got on the bus dressed in his PT clothes with a rifle,” Sheriff Lott said. “He told the bus driver he didn’t want to hurt them. He wanted [the driver] to drive him to the next town.”
The suspected kidnapper motioned the children to move toward the front of the bus. Sheriff Lott said they began peppering him with questions, asking whether he intended to hurt them or the driver.
“The suspect got a little frustrated,” Sheriff Lott said. He allowed the driver and children to get off the bus then drove away.
More than a dozen children were on the school bus and some contacted their parents to tell them what was happening, officials said. Sheriff Lott said the suspect fled in the school bus for a couple of miles then abandoned the vehicle. He left the rifle in the bus then ran through the neighborhood looking for clothes and a ride. Officials did not say where he intended to go.
Sheriff’s deputies quickly tracked down the trainee and took him into custody without incident. He is facing multiple kidnapping charges, Sheriff Lott said.
The sheriff said the children were “scared to death” during the ordeal. He credited the bus driver with remaining calm and focusing his attention on the young passengers.
“The bus driver kept his cool [and] he didn’t overreact,” Sheriff Lott said. “His main concern was the safety of those kids and he did his job.”
Local authorities are now working with Army officials at Fort Jackson for additional information about the trainee.