Army Trainee Accused of Hijacking School Bus Charged with 19 Counts of Kidnapping

Screengrab allegedly showing Collazo pointing an M4 at the driver.
Screengrab of video released by the Richland County sheriff's department showing alleged hjjacker pointing an M4 at the driver after boarding the bus. The video was edited by the sheriff's department to protect the students' identities. (Screengrab Richland County Sheriff's Department)

The 23-year-old Army trainee who fled a South Carolina military base on Thursday and allegedly hijacked a school bus left the driver and 18 students fearing for their lives, a county sheriff said, as the man waved a military-issued M4 carbine while demanding to be taken to another location.

Pvt. Jovan Collazo was charged Thursday with 19 counts of kidnapping, armed robbery, carjacking, and several weapons violations, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced Thursday. Collazo was arrested earlier that day after fleeing Fort Jackson in physical training gear with an unloaded M4.

He's accused of hijacking a school bus off base that was headed to Forest Lake Elementary in Columbia and demanding to be driven to the next town. Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr., Fort Jackson's commander, said Collazo, who'd been in training for three weeks before bolting from the base, told the driver he didn't want to hurt anyone.

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Lott said he still shocked those on the bus in the six minutes before the driver and children were able to exit the vehicle unharmed. The driver and students had no way of knowing whether the soldier's weapon was loaded, he added.

"They were scared to death for six minutes -- for six minutes they were traumatized," Lott said. "For six minutes ... there was a bad guy on the bus with a gun."

    In a video released by the sheriff's department, Collazo can allegedly be seen pointing the M4 at the driver after boarding the bus. The video was edited by the sheriff's department to protect the students' identities, but Lott said Collazo later pointed the weapon at the students.

    "It didn't matter if there was the bullet in it or not," Lott said. "In the bus driver and those kids' minds, that was a loaded gun that was being pointed at them, and that put the fear in their hearts."

    Lott said the students asked Collazo if he was a soldier and if he was going to hurt them or their driver.

    Collazo, who's from New Jersey, was in his third week of basic training at Fort Jackson, where he was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. He had been issued a rifle in preparation for marksmanship training but had no access to ammunition, officials there said in a Thursday news release.

    He left the base while his unit was tending to their personal hygiene after physical training, in preparation for breakfast and other training events, officials said.

    "This was a failure in our accountability procedures that we truly regret and are apologetic to our community," Leslie Ann "LA" Sully, a Fort Jackson spokeswoman, said Thursday.

    Beagle called on base leaders "to assess force protection, personnel accountability, and any additional measures to prevent any future incidents," the Thursday news release states.

    "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," the notice adds.

    Lott called the bus driver a hero and credited him with remaining calm and getting the students off the bus safely.

    "We unfortunately have to teach our kids how to respond to an active shooter in situations like they were encountered," he said. "... They did what they needed to do."

    Aside from civilian charges, Beagle said this week that Collazo could face military charges, including theft of government property and absence without leave.

    -- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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