Third-week Army trainee Pvt. Jovan Collazo was desperately trying to get home from Fort Jackson when he left the South Carolina installation early Thursday morning wearing a PT uniform, bearing a rifle, and hijacked a Richland County school bus, authorities say.
Collazo was arrested later that day and charged with 19 counts of kidnapping and single counts 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 weapon during a violent crime, according to jail records.
He wanted to go home
The incident began around 7 a.m. when Collazo, 23, left Fort Jackson without authorization, carrying his Army-issued M-4 carbine rifle, according to installation officials.
He left Fort Jackson when his unit was conducting personal hygiene after unit physical training in preparation for breakfast and other training events, said Leslie Sully, a Fort Jackson spokeswoman.
Collazo was attempting to return home, Sully said.
After failing to hitch a ride from any cars on Interstate 77, Collazo got on the bus at a stop near Percival Road picking up students who attend Forest Lake Elementary in Richland School District Two, according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. He told the driver he didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he wanted to be taken to the next town.
Soon, he became frustrated and let the children and bus driver out and drove away. A few miles later, he abandoned both the rifle and the bus and went off in search of clothes in a nearby neighborhood, Lott added. Police found him and he was arrested without incident.
Lott added that the bus driver is to be credited with keeping the children protected and de-escalating the situation.
Trainees like Collazo are issued rifles in preparation for marksmanship training, said Sully.
But they do not have access to ammunition “until they are on a designated marksmanship range,” she said.
Collazo, a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, had not yet been to a marksmanship range or had access to ammunition. He arrived at Fort Jackson the second week of April and was in his third week of basic training with his unit.
Fort Jackson commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., convened leaders from across the installation “to assess force protection, personnel accountability, and any additional measures to prevent any future incidents,” Sully said. “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.”
In addition to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, which is the lead agency in the investigation, Fort Jackson leadership has initiated their own investigation and continues to work with the sheriff’s department, Sully noted.
“His next of kin have been notified that Collazo committed a serious offense and remains in the custody of local law enforcement pending ... charges,” Sully said.