School Bus Hijacked With Children Aboard; Suspect Killed
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A hijacker with a grudge against the IRS commandeered a school bus this morning with 11 disabled children and two adults aboard, taking them on a harrowing ride before he was fatally shot by police.
About an hour after the hijacking began, the bus came to a halt and police fired at least three shots at the hijacker, Metro-Dade police spokesman Pat Brickman said. Authorities were uncertain about whether he was shot on board or after he stepped off the bus.
Police said the hijacker had a device strapped around him and they believed it was a bomb; subsequently they determined it was not.
Officers dragged the man onto the sidewalk in front of Joe’s Stone Crab, a popular restaurant at the tip of Miami Beach.
The children, the bus driver and an aide escaped serious injury, authorities said.
``Fortunately, today we were lucky nobody was harmed,″ said Henry Fraind, a Dade County schools spokesman.
Jesse Dunwoody, administrator of the South Pointe Manor nursing home across the street from the restaurant, said he and 10 staffers watched the drama.
``I was up on the roof and I heard the shots. As soon as we heard the gunshots we all pulled back,″ Dunwoody said.
Another witness, who was not identified, told WSVN-TV he heard four or five shots.
``About 15 cops jumped on top of him,″ the witness said. ``He was bleeding from the upper right shoulder and it looked like from the stomach area. They dragged him onto the sidewalk and just dropped him. The officers told everyone to step back, I think, because they thought he had a bomb on him.″
The school bus was en route to Blue Lakes Elementary School in Miami when it was commandeered in southwest Dade County.
Metro-Dade and Florida Highway Patrol cruisers formed a convoy around the hijacked bus as it traveled from southwest Miami north on State Road 826, a major north-south highway, and then east toward downtown on State Road 836, a major east-west highway.
News helicopters followed and the chase was broadcast live on national television.
During the hijacking, the bus driver kept in radio contact with authorities and passed along the hijacker’s demands, said Randy Egues, a Metro-Dade police spokesman.
The hijacker took the bus across the MacArthur Causeway linking Miami and Miami Beach and led police through the streets of the South Beach tourist area. The bus finally stopped outside the landmark restaurant, where the hijacker had said he wanted to eat lunch, Egues said.
Dozens of police cars, their red and blue lights flashing, surrounded the yellow bus and police crouched behind them, aiming weapons at the bus.
``As the bus stopped originally, we attempted to make contact, negotiate with him,″ said Brickman, the Metro-Dade police spokesman. ``We’re not sure of all the demands he might have been making.″
But then the bus started moving again slowly and stopped, Brickman said. That’s when the confrontation occurred.
Police then boarded the bus and pulled the suspect off. They dragged away a man in a white shirt and dark pants.
The hijacker commandeered the bus to draw attention to a tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service, authorities said. The agency declined comment about the dispute.
Worried parents raced to the scene in Miami Beach, along with schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo, who said 11 children were on board.
He praised the bus driver and the aide for remaining calm. ``She never panicked,″ he said of the driver.
``We’re trying to get the parents,″ Visiedo said. ``Some of the parents are already here, and we’re dealing with them right now.″
One parent, Vivian Ellis, waited for her child at the school. ``They’re OK. I’m happy,″ Ellis said, weeping.