The Army’s largest basic training post paused weapons immersion training after one trainee escaped May 6 and hijacked a school bus with an unloaded M4 carbine, officials at Fort Jackson, in South Carolina, said Thursday evening.
The pause “means simply that weapons are kept in the arms room unless they are needed for a specific training event,” such as going to the range or practicing aiming techniques, post spokesman Patrick J. Jones told Army Times. The pause applies to all personnel in basic training, he added.
Normally, soldiers in training are issued rifles, but they do not have access to ammunition until they are on a range. Army officials knew the gun was unloaded during the May 6 school bus hijacking, but they said they recognize that others did not.
Fort Jackson commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle said he has been in touch with Baron Davis, superintendent of the Richland 2 School District, where the hijacking occurred.
“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.”
The incident began May 6 at 7 a.m., when 23-year-old Army trainee Jovan Collazo escaped post with an unloaded M4 carbine and entered a school bus heading to Forest Lake Elementary School in Columbia.
Collazo was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. He arrived at Fort Jackson in April and was in his third week of basic training.
Collazo slipped away after a morning exercise session, while his fellow trainees were cleaning up before breakfast, said Fort Jackson spokeswoman Leslie Sully.
Collazo was attempting to return home, but after failing to hitch a ride on Interstate 77, he got on the school bus at one of its designated stops, 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, Army Times previously reported.
He became frustrated and let the children and bus driver out before driving 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.
Beagle is coordinating with subordinate leaders at Fort Jackson to assess force protection and personnel accountability measures to prevent future incidents, according to post officials.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department is the lead agency in the investigation, but Fort Jackson has initiated an investigation, as well.
Collazo has been in jail since he was arrested on two dozen charges, including 19 counts of kidnapping.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer