COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – A Fort Jackson Army trainee faces 19 counts of kidnapping for hijacking a school bus hijacking Thursday morning, officials say.
The trainee, Jovan Collazo, 23, of New Jersey, also faces weapons charges. He had been in training for three weeks.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Office released some surveillance footage of the incident. Collazo is seen dressed in physical training clothes, holding a rifle as he boards the school bus, pointing his gun at the driver.
According to Sheriff Leon Lott, the incident unfolded around 7 a.m. when the trainee was reportedly hitchhiking on I-77.
The sheriff said after Collazo didn’t get picked up on the interstate, he noticed some students waiting at a bus stop.
After all of the Forest Lake Elementary School students got onto the bus, the trainee followed. Lott said Collazo told the driver he didn’t want to hurt them but wanted a ride to the next town.
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 him several questions.
Collazo got frustrated and made the driver and the 18 elementary school students get off of the bus. He drove for a few miles before abandoning the bus, leaving his rifle on board.
The sheriff said Collazo ran through a neighborhood, attempting to get a ride and find new clothes. That’s when deputies spotted him near Percival Road and I-77.
He was arrested without incident.
Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr. said the soldier in training jumped their fence line during “personal hygiene time” before breakfast. Collazo took the rifle with him so others wouldn’t immediately know he was missing, Beagle said.
Beagle said Fort Jackson doesn’t issue ammunition to trainees, therefore, his rifle wasn’t loaded during the hijacking.
The general said officials believe the trainee’s intent was to get back home. They do not believe he had any intent to harm others or himself.
“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 bus driver’s identity has not yet been released.
Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said counseling services were made available to the students upon their arrival at the elementary school.
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.
Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article, WSAV erroneously reported the rifle was loaded.