COLUMBIA, S.C. — What began as soldier trainee armed with a rifle hijacking a school bus ended peacefully, but law enforcement said it doesn't lessen the knowledge of how bad things could have gone.
"I think God looked down on these kids this morning and wrapped his arms around them and took care of them," Lott said
Ft. Jackson officials say the man ran away from the base Thursday morning with his Army issued rifle. Around 7 a.m., Lott said the soldier began trying to flag down drivers. When that didn't work, he went to a school bus stop at Eagle Park Road and Percival Road. There, he found a group of 18 students boarding a bus bound for Forest Lake Elementary.
Lott said the man went aboard the bus and demanded to be driven to another town. At least one of the children onboard notified a parent by cell phone, and that parent in turn called law enforcement.
"Probably one of the scariest calls that we can get in law enforcement is that a school bus has been hijacked with kids on it by someone with a gun," Lott said.
After a short time, the student approached the front of the bus and began asking questions. Lott said the trainee got frustrated, had the driver stop, and ordered everyone to get off at a location along Percival Road.
After a mile, Lott said the suspect couldn't try it and abandoned it at a location off Old Percival Road, leaving the gun inside. A short time later, he was taken into custody.
Ft. Jackson's commander, Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr., later said the gun was not loaded, and a soldier at that level in the training process isn't given ammunition.
Until help arrived, the bus driver stayed with the children, and News19 has gotten reports that some people driving by stopped to help as well. Lott credited the bus driver's actions with not escalating the potentially dangerous situation.
"You can just imagine they were scared to death," Lott said. "I'll give the bus driver credit, he kept his cool. HIs main concern was the safety of the kids and he did his job."
Richland Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis, who called this the scariest day of his life, said his district began trying to help the students with the emotional trauma they just went through.
"We immediately began deploying social and emotional counseling resources to the school so that our students could begin the process of healing as they are dealing with a traumatic event," David said in a statement. "We will continue to provide counseling services for the students and their families, our bus driver and employees as long as necessary. We will also cooperate fully with law enforcement as they investigate this incident.”
Beagle said based on the comments the man made on the bus, and by talking with his commanders, he believe the recruit just wanted to get home, and did not have any intent to harm people. Still, he said the base will look at determining what happened that allowed something so frightening to happen.
"For me this was a key failure in our accountability processes that I will fix going forward because the outcome potentially could have been much worse," Beagle said"
"Thankful that we had a situation that ended peacefully," Lott said.