COLUMBIA, S.C. — It's a family's worst nightmare, and it is an experience 10-year-old Ke-aundre James will never forget.
A Richland School District Two school bus was hijacked early Thursday morning after making its first stop of the day at Eagle Park Drive on Percival Road.
"I heard yelling and cussing at the front of the bus, and it was this man, and he had a gun," Ke-aundre said.
"I called my mom and told her everybody on that bus was being held hostage," he said. "He was saying the F-word. He was saying close the doors. Go, go. Take me to the next town."
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the incident began around 7 a.m. on Ft. Jackson, when 23-year-old Jovan Collazo, in his third week of training, ran off from the fort carrying his rifle. Deputies said they later got a call reporting a man trying to flag down a car near Interstate 77.
Lott said Collazo then went to a bus stop near Eagle Park Road and Percival Road, where 18 students were getting on the bus to go to Forest Lake Elementary in Richland School District Two. The trainee then got on board armed with a rifle.
The sheriff's department said after six minutes, kids began coming to the front of the bus and started asking Collazo questions.
Ke-aundre said the kids on the bus were questioning the recruit. "They were asking him 'Are you going to hurt the bus driver? Are you in the military? Are you a solider?'
The sheriff said the soldier got frustrated, and told the kids and the driver to get off the bus near Percival Road.
"He told us to get out, but before he told us to get, he told everybody to move up to the front ... but I was still talking to my mom and my dad, so I put my phone on silent, and I put it in my pants and pulled my jacket over it so he wouldn't see," Ke-aundre said.
Ke-aundre's mom, Carolina Esenwein, said it's a phone call a parent never expects.
"He told my husband, 'We are hostages..' He was like, a man got on the bus with an assault rifle pointing it at the bus driver. So the first thing he told Ke-aundre was 'Get down. Get down. Get down.'"
Esenwein said she and her husband then jumped in their car to try to find their son. She says the panic really set in when she realized her son was actually on a hijacked bus.
"Everything went through my mind, and I just started freaking out. We were driving everywhere, like maniacs trying to find that bus, just trying to find my son."
"I really started panicking when he stopped answering my phone calls," Esenwein said. When she finally got in touch with her son, he told where he was and finally relief began to set in.
"I always make sure he has his phone, and its charging at night before he goes to bed," Esenwein said.
"We are so proud of him. We have been calling him a hero all day," Esenwein said.
As for this courageous young man, his only concern was for those younger than him riding that bus too. "They wasn't supposed to witness that. Not at that age," Ke-aundre said.