Family members, attorneys for victims of Forest Lake Elementary school bus hijacking hold news conference

National

COLUMBIA. S.C. (WSPA) – Attorneys and family members of victims in last week’s Forest Lake Elementary school bus hijacking will hold a news conference at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

According to a press release, family members of two of the victims will join attorneys Bakari Sellers and Jessica Fickling to call on authorities at Fort Jackson and Richland County School District Two to answer questions about what led to the hijacking of a Forest Lake Elementary school bus last week.

23-year-old Jovan Collazo has been charged on 19 counts of kidnapping and weapon charges in connection with the incident.

This image released by the Richland County, S.C., Sheriff’s Department, shows Jovan Collazo. (Richland County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Officials with Fort Jackson sent out a statement saying that they continue to assess measures to prevent future incidents from happening. The installation has also paused their weapons immersion training while the investigation continues.

“We truly regret this incident and the effect it is having on our community,” said Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle.

“I have spoken with [Richland School District Two Superintendent] Dr. Davis, to express my desire to meet with the parents of the children so I can personally share my concerns for them. I want to answer their questions and let them know we are taking actions to prevent this from happening again.”

Full statement from Fort Jackson:

This is an update on last week’s incident where an AWOL Army trainee boarded a school bus armed but without ammunition and later released the driver and schoolchildren without harm. Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr., convened leaders from across the installation to assess force protection, personnel accountability, and other measures to prevent future incidents.

We have paused our weapons immersion training while we continue investigating. Although we knew there was no ammunition in the weapon, we acknowledge that others did not know that fact. Our goal is to determine how this happened and what actions are needed to prevent it in the future.

“We truly regret this incident and the effect it is having on our community,” Beagle said. “I have spoken with Dr. Davis, to express my desire to meet with the parents of the children so I can personally share my concerns for them. I want to answer their questions and let them know we are taking actions to prevent this from happening again.”

We are thankful for the open dialogue with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the Richland School District Two and community leaders as we all work together to be as transparent as possible. Collectively, we are working with each other to inform and assist those who have been impacted by this incident.

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