CAUGHT ON CAM: Armed Fort Jackson trainee hijacked SC school bus full of children, police say

18 children from Forest Lake Elementary were on board, but are safe.
Sheriff Leon Lott gives an update on the suspect reportedly involved in the school bus hijacking in Richland County.
Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 7:17 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A soldier in training at Fort Jackson has been arrested after hijacking a school bus while armed with a gun, police said.

Jovan Collazo faces numerous charges including 19 counts of kidnapping.
Jovan Collazo faces numerous charges including 19 counts of kidnapping.(RCSD)

Officials say it all started around 7 a.m. Thursday when a trainee dressed in a physical training uniform took a M4 rifle, jumped a fence and left post.

He has been identified as Jovan Collazo, 23, of New Jersey.

Fort Jackson notified law enforcement, but admitted Collazo had been gone for a brief time before they noticed.

The trainee was seen trying to flag cars down on Interstate 77. Those drivers called the sheriff’s department.

Officials say Collazo got on the school bus with his rifle as the driver was letting children on at a bus stop on Percival Road at Eagle Park Road.

A parent stopped a deputy and said a man with a gun was on her child’s school bus. The students were headed for Forest Lake Elementary.

Video released by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department shows the trainee pointing the rifle at the driver and demanding he shut the door and drive. (Watch above or click or tap here to view.)

“You can just imagine they were scared to death,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

The trainee’s rifle was not loaded, Fort Jackson officials confirmed.

“But to those in the community -- those on the bus would not have known that,” Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr. said. “In training, no ammunition is issued three weeks in.”

Once on the bus, Collazo reportedly told the driver he didn’t want to hurt anyone and just wanted to get to the next town.

Lott said the suspect brought the kids to the front of the bus and they started asking questions, which frustrated him.

According to officials, the bus was stopped at Percival and Alpine roads when the trainee had the 18 elementary kids and driver get off the bus.

Thankfully, no one on the bus was hurt, officials said.

The trainee then drove about a mile further before abandoning the bus on Old Percival and Quincy roads.

“He left the rifle on the bus and went through neighborhoods trying to get rides, trying to get clothes and made his way to Percival and 77 where citizens and deputies spotted him and he was arrested without incident,” Lott said.

NEW VIDEO: This was the scene when police found the Richland Two school bus that was reportedly hijacked this morning with 18 students on board. THE LATEST >>

Posted by WIS TV on Thursday, May 6, 2021

Collazo is charged with 19 counts of kidnapping, carjacking, possessing a weapon on school property, armed robbery and weapons possession during a violent crime.

Beagle said the trainee, who has been at Fort Jackson for three weeks, was likely trying to get home, and his counselors on post said he was “very quiet.”

“There is nothing that leads us to believe, through his counseling and his screening records coming in, that this had anything to do with harming others, harming himself, or anything that links to any other type of nefarious activities,” Beagle said.

The commander added “there are better ways to deal with that.”

Beagle apologized to the community and took responsibility for the base’s failure to be accountable for all their trainees.

During the pursuit of the suspect, multiple schools in the area were placed into lockout as a precaution. Those have since been lifted.

Lott praised the school bus driver as a hero, saying he remained calm in the face of danger.

The driver had recently had training for such a situation, and did exactly what he needed to do to keep the children safe, the sheriff said.

WIS spoke to a woman who helped the driver and children on her way to work after Collazo put them off the bus.

McIver Williamson saw the kids standing on the side of the road and jumped into action.

There wasn’t much room next to the road, so she jumped out of her car and corralled all of them and protected them until another bus got there.

Williamson said she told the kids they were going to be OK and one day they could write a story from the incident about being heroes.

She said one little girl was cold so police gave her a coat.

Williamson recalled the older children putting their arms around the younger ones and comforting them.

She said when she originally drove up, she didn’t know what was going on.

“My original thought was, ‘Do you need help getting these kids to school cause isn’t that where they need to be?’” Williamson said. “And the response was a soldier has taken the bus, he has a rifle and he had the children and driver get off the bus.”

Williamson said the students knew it was an Army man because he had short hair and a rifle.

She said none of the children were crying.

Williamson told WIS she didn’t even speak to the driver because they were just focused on the children, but she said he was very caring and calm.

Richland Two School District officials said they are offering counseling to the children and will continue to be available to the students and the driver as long as necessary.

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