The driver of a school bus that was hijacked in Columbia Thursday morning was lauded for keeping 18 elementary school students, and himself, safe from an armed man.
A soldier in his third week of training at Fort Jackson escaped officials at the U.S. Army instillation and was armed with a rifle when he got on a bus headed for Forest Lake Elementary School, according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
The driver, who has not been publicly identified, was picking up children at a bus stop on Percival Road when the trainee also got on board, Lott said.
“You can just imagine (the elementary school students) were scared to death, along with that bus driver,” Lott said.
Thrust into a crisis, the driver remained calm, according to the sheriff.
The trainee told the driver he didn’t want to hurt anybody and wanted to be taken to the next town, Lott said. The driver followed the instructions and the bus was on the move.
The trainee brought all of the kids to the front of the bus, where they began to frustrate him with lots of questions, Lott said.
Again the driver kept his composure as tension increased in the already harrowing situation.
Soon, the trainee had the driver stop near the intersection of Alpine and Percival roads and let the kids and driver off, according to Lott. The trainee drove off a couple miles, but quickly abandoned the bus that he had difficulty driving the bus, Lott said.
Neither the students nor the driver were hurt, and the trainee was soon taken into custody.
“I will give the bus driver credit. He kept his cool. He didn’t overreact. He didn’t get excited and kept his cool enough that kept the situation calm,” Lott said. “His main concern was the safety of those kids, and he did his job.”
Richland 2 school board chairman James Manning said the district “unfortunately” has practiced for a crisis situation. He said those protocols were successfully used Thursday morning and were “immensely beneficial.”
That included the actions of the bus driver.
The driver’s calm response exemplified the training he received through a Safe Pupil Training course, which is required training for district bus drivers, Richland 2 spokeswoman Libby Roof said.
“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,” Richland 2 Superintendent Dr. Baron R. Davis said.
Molly Spearman, the state Superintendent of Education also commended the bus driver.
“I am relieved that no students were harmed during this alarming incident in Columbia. Thankful for the bus driver and law enforcement for responding quickly,” Spearman said on Twitter.
This is a developing story, check back for updates.