An armed U.S. Army trainee stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina has been arrested after officials said he hijacked a bus full of elementary school children on Thursday.
In a press conference, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the incident took place at around 7 a.m. after a trainee who was in his third week of training at the U.S. Army installation, left the base dressed in PT clothes. The trainee armed with an Army-issued rifle, seized control of the bus, with a driver and 18 children on board.
Lott said the trainee eventually let the bus driver and children off the bus. The suspect reportedly drove the bus a few miles before abandoning it and the rifle. Lott said the suspect then went through neighborhoods trying to get clothes and a ride before he was subsequently arrested. Lott said the children and bus driver were unharmed.
Lott said the suspect will be charged with multiple kidnapping counts and “whatever charges we can put on him.”
Lott credited the bus driver for keeping calm during the incident. “His main concern was the safety of those kids and he did his job.”
During a separate press conference, Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle, the commanding general at Fort Jackson identified the suspect as a 23-year-old trainee.
Beagle said the trainee “did make it known to the driver up front he did not want to harm anyone, he just wanted to get to the next town.”
Beagle assessed the trainee was trying to leave training and return home to New Jersey. Beagle said the trainee had an M4 service rifle, chambered to fire 5.56 rounds, but did not have ammunition for his rifle as it would not have been issued to him that early on in his training. He said ammunition is typically issued in the fourth week of training, but until then trainees are only issued rifles as part of a weapons immersion training process.
“I do want to express a great deal of sympathy to those parents, to the bus driver, to our community,” Beagle said.
Beagle described the incident as a failure “with regard to me and my roll in terms of our accountability procedures and processes.” He vowed to fix the deficiencies in the base accountability procedures.
The trainee reportedly left the base by crossing a section of perimeter fencing that was topped with razor wire, but which was in a heavily wooded area that was not monitored. Beagle said the fence section is near Highway 77, where the trainee began seeking a ride once he had escaped the base.
Beagle said in the nearly three years that he’s been at Fort Jackson there have been a couple of absent without leave (AWOL) incidents, “but never with a weapon.”