RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – The Richland County Sheriff’s Department said a Fort Jackson Army trainee has been arrested after leaving base Thursday morning and hijacking a school bus.
23-year-old Jovan Collazo has been charged on 19 counts of kidnapping and weapon charges.
Sheriff Leon Lott said the trainee was wearing physical training clothes when he left the base at about 7 a.m. with a rifle.
Someone called the sheriff’s office about a man attempting to flag down cars on I-77. Lott said after the trainee didn’t get picked up on the interstate, he noticed some students were waiting at a bus stop on Percival Road.
A deputy was stopped on Percival Road by a parent of one of the students on the school bus. The parent told the deputy that their child was on board and there was a man with a gun on the bus, Lott said.
After all of the Forest Lake Elementary School students got onto the bus, the trainee got on the bus with his rifle and told the driver he did not want to hurt them. He also told the driver to take him to the next town, Lott said.
(Above: Video of school bus hijacking from Richland County Sheriff’s Department)
The bus driver started driving, and the trainee brought all of the students to the front of the bus, Lott said. The students started asking the trainee several questions.
The trainee got frustrated and then made the driver and the 18 elementary school students get off of the bus.
“You can just imagine they were scared to death,” Lott said. “I’ll give the bus driver credit. He kept his cool. He didn’t overreact. … His main concern was those kids and he did his job.”
The trainee drove the bus for a few miles before abandoning the bus. Lott said he left the rifle on the bus.
Lott said the trainee ran through a neighborhood, attempting to get a ride and find new clothes.
Deputies spotted the trainee near Percival Road and I-77. He was arrested without incident.
No injuries were reported.
(Above: Full video of Richland Co. Sheriff’s Department news conference on school bus hijacking.)
Fort Jackson Commander Brigadier General Milford Beagle Jr. held a news conference just after 1 p.m. He said the 23-year-old soldier in training, from New Jersey, jumped their fence line during their “personal hygiene time” before breakfast.
Gen. Beagle said he had been in training for three weeks. He also said they do not issue ammunition to trainees therefore he did not have ammunition in his rifle during the hijacking incident. He said the trainee took the rifle with him so that others would not immediately know that he was missing.
(Above: Fort Jackson officials provide update on school bus hijacking.)
The general said they believe that the trainee’s intent was to get back home. They do not believe that he had any intent to harm others or himself.
Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said counseling services were made available to the students upon their arrival at the elementary school.
“I have been on the board now for over 10 years, and I’ve never received a call that scared me as much as the call that I got this morning. That a bus had been hijacked with our students and staff,” Richland School District Two School Board Chairman James Manning said. “We’re very happy that they’re safe.”
Richland School District Two released the following statement:
“We are so fortunate and grateful that this incident ended peacefully thanks to the actions of our bus driver, our students, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the City of Columbia Police Department, the S.C. Highway Patrol and other first responders,” said Dr. Baron R. Davis, Superintendent of Richland School District Two.
The driver’s calm response exemplified the training he received through a Safe Pupil Training course. This course is required training for district bus drivers.
Davis said, “Once we were certain all students were accounted for and physically safe, 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. 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.”
Fort Jackson released the following statement:
At about 7 a.m. this morning, Pvt. Jovan Collazo, 23, left Fort Jackson
without authorization, attempting to return home. Carrying an Army-issued
M-4 carbine rifle, Collazo hijacked a school bus before releasing the driver
and schoolchildren without harm. Richland County Sheriff’s Deputies then
arrested Collazo. Collazo remains in custody with Richland County Sheriff’s
As part of their training, the trainees are issued rifles in preparation for
marksmanship training; however, trainees do not have access to ammunition
until they are on a designated marksmanship range. Pvt. Collazo, a member of
Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, at this stage of training,
had not been to a marksmanship range or had access to ammunition.
Collazo left Fort Jackson when his unit was conducting personal hygiene
after unit physical training, in preparation for breakfast and other
training events. .
Collazo arrived at Fort Jackson the second week of April and was in his
third week of basic training with his unit. His next of kin have been
notified that Collazo committed a serious offense and remains in the custody
of local law enforcement pending civil charges.
Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr., convened leaders
from across Fort Jackson to assess force protection, personnel
accountability, and any additional measures to prevent any future incidents.
The entire Fort Jackson team continues to communicate and work with Army
headquarters leadership to immediately implement changes that ensure the
safety of Fort Jackson and our local community.
Fort Jackson leadership has initiated their own investigation and continues
to work with Richland County Sheriff Department. Richland County Sheriff’s
office is currently the lead agency on the investigation.
We will update this story as information becomes available.