Fort Jackson apologizes for SC school bus hijacking, trainee arrested

Published: May. 6, 2021 at 2:12 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A soldier in training at Fort Jackson has been arrested after hijacking a school bus with a gun, police say.

Officials say it all started around 7 a.m. Thursday when a trainee dressed in a physical training uniform took a M4 rifle, jumped a fence and left post.

Fort Jackson notified law enforcement, but admitted the trainee had been gone for brief time before they noticed.

The man was seen trying to flag cars down on Interstate 77. Those drivers called the sheriff’s department. Then a parent stopped a deputy and said a man with a gun was on her child’s Forest Lake Elementary School bus.

Fort Jackson officials 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.”

Officials say the 23-year-old trainee 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.

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.”

Once on the bus, he reportedly told the driver he didn’t want to hurt anyone and just wanted to get to the next town.

“You can just imagine they were scared to death,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Lott said the suspect brought the kids to the front of the bus and they started asking questions, which frustrated him.

According to officials, the bus was stopped at Percival and Alpine roads when the trainee had the 18 elementary kids and driver get off the bus.

Thankfully, no one on the bus was hurt, officials said.

The trainee then drove about a mile further before abandoning the bus on Old Percival and Quincy roads.

“He left the rifle on the bus and went through neighborhoods trying to get rides, trying to get clothes and made his way to Percival and 77 where citizens and deputies spotted him and he was arrested without incident,” Lott said.

The suspect has not yet been named, but he is a 23-year-old from New Jersey, Beagle said.

He is expected to face multiple counts of kidnapping charges.

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.”

During the pursuit of the suspect, multiple schools in the area were placed into lockout as a precaution. Those have since been lifted.

Richland Two School District officials said they are offering counseling to the children and will continue to be available to the students and the driver as long as necessary.

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