COLUMBIA, S.C. — A Richland District Two school bus was hijacked early Thursday morning after making its first stop of the day at Eagle Park Drive on Percival Road.
Around 7 a.m., 18 children in grades ranging from pre-kindergarten to around 5th grade were followed onto their school bus by a trainee from Fort Jackson who had gone absent without leave (AWOL). The trainee, who was carrying an unloaded military rifle, asked the bus driver to drive him to the next town.
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The school district's Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis was notified shortly after the incident began. In an interview with WLTX, Dr. Davis said, "It is without question the most frightening call I think I received as a professional educator. Any time you get a call that says a bus has been hijacked and there is a weapon involved .... your mind takes you to the worse case scenario. So I had a range of emotions – from fear to anxiety, to frustration to anger – all of those things ran the gamut almost immediately."
Dr. Davis went on to say, "But immediately, you have to suppress those things and start getting to the process of assessing the situation and making the appropriate decisions. And so that was the next step. You are dealing with those emotions and making the best decisions possible.
"Once we found out that all the students were safe and secure, we wanted to make sure we were ready to provide them with the wellbeing, the social and emotional wellbeing that they needed."
During the incident, several district schools were briefly put on lockdown. The hijacked bus was picking up students attending Forest Lake Elementary, just off Decker Boulevard.
Dr, Davis wanted the families and students in the district to know that their safety and security is the top concern.
"I think we will continue to let our families and students know, first and foremost, that we love them and care for them and we are committed to their safety," he said. "There are some things outside of your control in life. You cannot control those things, but you can control your response to those things. We want to respond with a sense of care and a sense of concern and a sense of love for our students and our families."