COLUMBIA, S.C. (CNN) — A Fort Jackson trainee is in custody after allegedly hijacking a school bus full of students on its way to Forest Lake Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina, the Richland County sheriff said.
Sheriff Leon Lott called the incident “a very scary situation,” but said none of the 18 the children on board the bus were injured. The bus driver was also uninjured.
“Probably one of the scariest calls we can get in law enforcement and as a school district is that a school bus has been hijacked with kids on it with someone with a gun. And that’s what we had this morning,” Lott told reporters during a press conference Thursday.
Lott said that around 7:00 am, a Fort Jackson trainee dressed in physical training clothes left the Army base armed with a rifle. According to Lott, the trainee was in his third week of training.
Lott said the RSCD received a call reporting an individual on Interstate 77 flagging people down and trying to get into cars. Lott said the trainee eventually ended up at a bus stop where children were loading onto the bus and he got on as well. Lott said around the same time, a sheriff’s deputy was flagged down by a parent who said their child was on a bus with man who has a gun. Lott said multiple children called their parents on cell phones to report the incident.
“He got on bus and told bus driver he didn’t want to hurt him but wanted him to take him to the next town,” Lott said.
According to Lott, the suspect brought the kids to the front of bus, where they started asking questions about if he was going to hurt them or the driver. According to Lott, the suspect got frustrated and had the children and driver get off the bus.
According to Lott, the suspect drove the bus a few miles and was “having difficulties operating the bus” before abandoning it with the rifle inside. Lott said the suspect then wandered through neighborhoods trying to get “rice and clothes.”
The suspect was eventually spotted near I-77 where he was arrested. Lott said the entire incident lasted about an hour.
Lott said he expects the suspect will be charged with multiple counts of kidnapping and possibly more.
Fort Jackson said in a tweet it was aware of what happened.
“Fort Jackson officials are aware of the incident involving a trainee this morning. We are working closely with RCSD to respond to this incident,” Fort Jackson said.
Lott said the top priority now was addressing the needs of the children who were “scared to death.”
School District 2 Superintendent Baron Davis said all of the children were offered counseling services when they arrived at school and the district remains focused on addressing their social and emotional needs.
Lott said the sheriff’s department, Columbia Police Department, and the South Carolina Highway Patrol were all involved in responding to the incident. Lott and he expects to release the name of the suspect and more information later Thursday.
Fort Jackson is the Army’s main production center for basic combat training, according to its website.