COLUMBIA, S.C. - An Army trainee has been arrested after authorities say he boarded a South Carolina school bus with a gun Thursday and held the driver and elementary students hostage before letting them off the bus.
During a news conference, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the incident started at around 7 a.m. near Fort Jackson, the U.S. Army's largest basic training facility, located in Columbia. The trainee, dressed in physical therapy clothes, "ran off post and escaped" with a rifle from the installation, Lott said. Deputies then started receiving calls about someone standing on a nearby interstate flagging down cars.
The trainee then went to a nearby bus stop where children were waiting to be taken to Forest Lake Elementary School, Lott said, and boarded the buss himself, armed with the rifle.
"He told the bus driver he didn't want to hurt anybody; he wanted him to drive him to the next town," Lott said.
Some of the 18 children on the bus began using cellphones to call parents to let them know what was happening, Lott said. After some of the children asked repeatedly if the trainee planned to hurt them or the driver, the trainee "got a little frustrated" and ordered the bus stopped, allowing the driver and children to get off, Lott said. He then drove the bus several miles before abandoning it, with the rifle inside.
The man then "went through neighborhoods" nearby, Lott said, looking for clothes, was subsequently spotted by deputies and arrested without incident.
A spokeswoman for the Richland Two School District said the bus was transporting elementary school children. As a precaution, security at multiple area schools was increased and no one was allowed to enter or leave the buildings, she said.
"A very scary situation this morning," Lott said of the incident, which he said lasted about an hour.
This is at least the second high-profile incident in recent weeks involving a soldier based at Fort Jackson. Last month, a Fort Jackson soldier was charged with third-degree assault and suspended after an online video depicted him accosting and shoving a Black man in his neighborhood.
Lott said the man in Thursday's incident was in his third week of basic training at the installation.
Officials with Fort Jackson said they were cooperating with deputies. The trainee's name has not been released, and Lott said he would face charges including multiple counts of kidnapping.