Armed army trainee fleeing base hijacks bus of schoolchildren in South Carolina

Children were ‘scared to death’ but all are safe and suspect in custody

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Thursday 06 May 2021 18:48
Police hold briefing on armed hijacking of school bus in South Carolina

An army trainee armed with a rifle hijacked a school bus full of children in South Carolina, police reported.

The bus was taking elementary students to their school in Richland County when the trainee from a nearby army base took over the bus, initially demanding the driver take him to a nearby town.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says 18 students and a driver were on board the vehicle when the incident happened at around 7am on Thursday.

All of the students and the driver are safe and the suspect is in custody. The army says he is a 23-year-old trainee from New Jersey in his third week of training.

WIS’s Adam Mintzer reports that the trainee, who was in uniform, got on the bus while children were boarding.

“You can just imagine they were scared to death,” said the Sheriff. “I’ll give the bus driver credit, he kept his cool.”

The suspect became frustrated and the children asked if he was going to hurt them. The driver then stopped the bus and got everyone off.

Continuing on in the bus, with the rifle, the trainee eventually abandoned both the vehicle and the weapon and continued on foot trying to get a ride or a change of clothes. He was soon apprehended by deputies.

Sheriff Lott says he will be charged with multiple counts of kidnapping.

The children attend Forest Lake Elementary in Richland School District Two and have been offered counselling.

During the pursuit of the suspect, several other schools in the area were put on lockdown as a precaution.

Fort Jackson, near Columbia South Carolina, is the US Army’s main basic combat training centre. Officials at the base are working with the Sheriff’s office as part of the investigation.

In a press conference later on Thursday, base commander Brigadier General Milford Beagle Jr apologised to the local community for the “failure in our accountability procedures”.

Gen Beagle said that the rifle was not loaded and trainees have no access to ammunition at this stage of training, but are required to carry their rifles.

The trainee was described as quiet and it is believed he was anxious and wanted to return home. He had no intention of harming anyone.

When other trainees realised he was missing they immediately alerted officials and training was suspended. Gen Beagle said that after civilian procedures have been followed, the trainee will be likely be “permanently separated” from the military.

Fort Jackson was in the news just over two weeks ago after a soldier was caught on camera accosting a Black man for being in the “wrong neighbourhood”.

Seargent Jonathan Pentland was charged with third-degree assault and battery over the incident.

Gen Beagle said in a statement at the time: “I remain deeply concerned for the members of our Army family, the young man and his family, and the tensions that activities like this amplify over time.”

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