A Fort Jackson intern is in custody after allegedly hijacking an elementary school bus in South Carolina with 18 children on board while carrying a rifle, authorities said.
Forest Lake Elementary students and the bus driver are safe, Richiff County Sheriff Lott told a news conference.
The 23-year-old trainee’s weapon did not have ammunition, Fort Jackson Commander Brig. General Milford H. Beagle Jr. said at a press conference, adding that the kids and the driver could not have known.
Lott called this “one of the most frightening calls we could get in law enforcement.”
The incident began around noon. 7 Thursday when the suspect allegedly jumped a barbed wire fence and fled Fort Jackson, according to Lott and Beagle.
The children had boarded the bus when the armed suspect came up and allegedly “told the bus driver that he did not want to hurt him, but he wanted him to drive him to the next town,”
The bus driver started driving and the suspect brought the children in front of the bus, Lott said.
“The kids started asking a lot of questions to the suspect if he was going to hurt them or the bus driver,” Lott said.
“The suspect got a little frustrated,” Lott said, and the driver pulled over.
The children and the bus driver went to safety.
The suspect then drove the bus a few miles before leaving it, leaving the rifle inside, Lott said.
The suspect was seen by deputies and civilians and was arrested without incident, Lott said. The intern will be charged with multiple kidnappings, Lott said. His name has not been released.
Beagle described the intern, who is believed to be in his third week in Fort Jackson, as a quiet 23-year-old from New Jersey. He said it looked like the intern was trying to get home.
“There is nothing that makes us believe in his advice, in his screening records, that come in that this had something to do with harming others, harming himself or anything related to any kind of malicious activity, ”Beagle said. “We are seeing more soldiers who, during the initial stages, have the desire, the anxiety, and because of separation from their families, to come home. We think that was really his intention and nothing beyond that.”
Fort Jackson officials issued an apology, saying in a statement, “This was a failure in our accountability procedures, which we truly regret and apologize to our community.”
Richland County School Board Chairman James Manning said, “I’ve been on the board now for over 10 years and I’ve never received a call that scared me as much as the call I received this morning – that a bus had been hijacked with our students. and staff. “
The students were taken to school “where they received support from school staff and counselors and were reunited with their parents / guardians,” the school district said.
Superintendent Baron Davis said in a statement, “Once we were sure that all students were taken care of and physically safe, we immediately began using social and emotional counseling resources for the school so that our students could begin the healing process as they are engaged. with a traumatic event. We will continue to offer counseling services to students and their families, our bus driver and staff for as long as necessary. “
Lott praised the bus driver, who he said “kept cool” and “kept the situation calm.”
“His biggest concern was the safety of these children, and he did his job,” Lott said.
ABC News’ Luis Martinez contributed to this report.