In South Carolina, eighteen children rode the school bus to Forest Lake Elementary School, unaware that they would be picking up an unwanted passenger. Meanwhile, a U.S. Army trainee left his base with a rifle, which was later revealed to be empty of bullets. He tried flagging down motorists until he noticed the school bus stop. Fortunately, the school bus hijacking ended before anyone got hurt.
A Sudden School Bus Hijacking
The authorities identified the suspect as 23-year-old Jovan Collazo from New Jersey. During the school bus hijacking, Collazo held his rifle and work a dark T-shirt with “army” written on it. Once he entered the vehicle, he ordered the driver, “Close the door, drive, drive!“
“[He] told the bus driver that he didn’t want to hurt him, but he wanted him to drive him to the next town,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
The suspect ordered the children to come to the front of the bus. “The kids were asking questions. ‘Are you gonna hurt us?’ ‘Are you a soldier?’ …So they were being kids, they were being kids,” said the sheriff. “I think that added to the frustration that he had.”
The questioning overwhelmed the hijacker. He let all of the children and driver exit the bus before driving the bus himself for a short distance. Then, he left the bus and the rifle behind. He was arrested shortly after. The children and driver endured the school bus hijacking for about six minutes before telling them to get off.
“It was six minutes of a bad guy on a bus with a gun who was very desperate,” said Lott.
Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr., the base commander, believes that homesickness motivated the young man to escape Fort Jackson by climbing a tall fence and walking through a thickly wooded area.
“As he left the bus, one thing he was trying to do… was trying to acquire new clothes and a ride, which we assume would have been to a bus station, the airport, train station in order to make it home,” Beagle said. 
Running From Army Training
“This incident could have ended very tragically,” said Richland School District Two Superintendent Baron Davis. “I’ve never been as scared in my life upon receiving that call.”
Meanwhile, Collazo had left during his third week of a 10-week basic combat training program at Fort Jackson. After the school bus hijacking incident, he was charged with kidnapping 19 people as well as carjacking and armed robbery. According to Beagle, his theft of the rifle and going AWOL will earn him military discipline. And it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed back into his training program.
However, Beagle also believes that the suspect didn’t intend on hurting anyone. “There is nothing that leads us to believe in his counseling, in his screening records coming in, that this had anything to do with harming others, harming himself, or anything that links to any type of nefarious activity,” he said. “We do experience several soldiers that over the course of initial stages have that desire, that anxiety, and due to separation from their families, to get home. We think that was truly his intent and nothing beyond that.”
No One Was Harmed
Fortunately, none of the students and the driver were hurt during the school bus hijacking.
“We’re very thankful that we had a situation this morning that ended very peacefully where we didn’t have anyone that was hurt,” Lott said. “Probably one of the scariest calls that we can get in law enforcement… That a school bus has been hijacked with kids on it with someone with a gun, and that’s what we had this morning.”
During the hijacking, some of the children on the school bus called their parents to tell them what was happening. Lotts credits them and the driver for keeping calm and composed during such a terrifying situation.
“You can just imagine they were scared to death. I’ll give the bus driver credit,” the sheriff said. “He kept his cool. He didn’t overreact… And I will tell you his main concern was the safety of those kids.”
Although the situation ended well, those six minutes traumatized the children. Only after did they learn that the rifle wasn’t loaded. But when they finally arrived at school, the school counselors and employees, as well as their parents, were there to reassure them.
Superintendent Baron Davis said in a statement, “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.” 
- “U.S. Army trainee with rifle hijacks school bus full of children, S.C. sheriff says.” NBC News. David K. Li. May 6, 2021
- “Armed school bus hijacker let children go after they pestered him by ‘asking lots of questions’.” Yahoo. Gino Spocchia. May 7, 2021
- “Army trainee hijacks elementary school bus full of children; kids all safe: Sheriff.” ABC News. Rachel Katz and Emily Shapiro. May 6, 2021