Jovan Collazo is a U.S. Army trainee at Fort Jackson who is facing serious charges after officials allege he hijacked a Richland County, South Carolina, school bus filled with elementary school students in Columbia.
The Army Times reported Collazo was wearing his PT, or physical training, uniform when he left Fort Jackson early in the morning Thursday, May 6, 2021, and boarded a school bus with a rifle. Military officials told the news outlet that the rifle was not loaded. Collazo was arrested within about one hour. The bus driver and students were not physically harmed.
Richland County officials released video of the incident, which you can watch later in this post.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Video Shows the Suspect Getting on the Bus & Pointing a Rifle at the Driver, Ordering Him to Close the Door & Drive
Officials released video which showed the suspect, later identified as Collazo, 23, getting on the school bus, pointing a rifle at the driver and telling him to close the school bus doors and drive, Richland County officials said during a press conference. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott played the video during a news conference, which shows the suspect wearing an Army T-shirt and holding a rifle.
“Drive!” and “Close the door!” the suspect says repeatedly to the bus driver, pointing a gun at him.
The video shows the bus driver leaning away from the rifle and complying, shutting the doors and driving the bus. A later video clip shows the suspect driving the bus himself, edging out of the doors and getting off the bus after the kids and driver were permitted to leave.
“A Fort Jackson trainee dressed in PT clothes and armed with a Fort Jackson rifle hijacked a school bus with children onboard this morning. No children were harmed. Suspect has been detained. Fort Jackson leadership says they are aware and are working w/ law enforcement,” Chase Laudenslager of WCBD News wrote on Twitter.
She later wrote an update after officials released the video and suspect’s name.
“Video released by the sheriff’s office shows the suspect, Jovan Collazo, getting on the bus, pointing a rifle at the driver, and telling the driver to close the doors and drive,” Laudenslager wrote.
2. Collazo Is From New Jersey & He Is Detained at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, the Richland County Jail
Collazo was arrested and faces a slew of charges in Richland County, according to his jail records at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, the county jail. Records show he is charged with 19 counts of kidnapping, in addition to one count each of armed robbery with a deadly weapon, carjacking without great bodily harm, pointing and presenting firearms at a person, carrying weapons on school property, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.
Here is his jail record and list of charges:
The most recent update in his case showed that he was in transit from Fort Jackson. His photo was not released on the jail website due to policy changes, officials said. His charges stem from the county, not the military. Lott said during a news conference that Collazo could face additional charges.
3. Collazo Was in His Third Week of Training in the Army & Did Not Have Access to Ammunition
Collazo is accused of pointing a rifle at the bus driver, but the gun was not loaded, Fort Jackson’s commander, Brigadier General Milford “Beags” Beagle said during a news conference.
“Based on everything we know … he’s been in training only for three weeks at this point, that he’s very quiet … from New Jersey, one relative that we knew of and so we assessed that he was just trying to make an attempt to go back home,” Beagle said.
Beagle said he believes Collazo was just trying to get home and didn’t intend harm, but that the situation could have been dangerous.
Richland School District Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis told WLTX he got a call notifying him of the situation unfolding, and that it was one of the scariest phone calls of his life.
“It was one of the scariest phone calls,” he said. “So many emotions that I had.”
The school district is offering counseling to the children, and several other area school districts were put on lockdown briefly during the incident, the news outlet reported.
4. Lott Credited the Bus Driver With Keeping the Kids on the Bus Safe
Lott said during a press conference that Collazo ran from the fort with his rifle and began trying to flag down vehicles near Interstate 77. They received a call of a man trying to flag down a vehicle there, their first notice that an incident was unfolding. Collazo then went to a bus stop at Eagle Park Road and Percival Road where he found a school bus stopping to pick up students. Eighteen students were on the bus, headed for Forest Lake Elementary in Richland School District Two.
Police say Collazo boarded the bus with a rifle, saying he didn’t want to hurt anyone and demanding he be taken to the next town. Lott said the situation was terrifying for the young children involved and credited the school bus driver with protecting the kids.
“You can just imagine they were scared to death,” Lott said. “I’ll give the bus driver credit, he kept his cool. His main concern was the safety of the kids and he did his job.”
Lott said Collazo aimed the rifle at both the bus driver and the students. The video showed the bus driver acting calmly despite the threat, Lott said.
“If we have a hero, it’s the bus driver,” he said.
5. Officials Say the Hijacking Lasted About 6 Minutes & Collazo Was Arrested About 1 Hour After Boarding the Bus
About six minutes after Collazo boarded the bus, Lott said he became frustrated with students coming to the front of the bus and asking him questions like, “Are you a soldier? Are you going to hurt us? Are you going to hurt the bus driver?” Collazo told everyone to get off the bus near Percival Road.
“It was six minutes of a bad guy on a bus who was very desperate,” Lott said during a press conference.
He drove several more miles after telling everyone else to get off the bus, but he was having trouble operating the vehicle properly, Lott said. He stopped on Old Percival Road and got off, abandoning the bus and looking for clothes around the neighborhood, according to Lott. Law enforcement converged on the scene and arrested Collazo.
Officials are working to gather more information about the suspect, Lott told the Army Times.
“We’re working with authorities at Fort Jackson now to determine some more about this individual,” Lott said. “[This was] a very scary situation that fortunately for everybody turned out well.
“I think God looked down on these kids this morning and wrapped his arms around them and took care of them,” Lott said.