School Bus Hijacked With Children Aboard; Suspect Killed
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A hijacker with a grudge against the IRS commandeered a school bus today, taking 11 disabled children and the driver on a harrowing ride before police shot him to death.
The man, who claimed to have a bomb, led dozens of police cruisers along two major highways, finally directing the school bus’ regular driver to Joe’s Stone Crab, a popular restaurant where he worked as a waiter.
During the 15-mile chase, police tried to negotiate with him. When that failed, they fired at least three shots, ending the 75-minute standoff.
``My information is he was not shot in the bus, he was shot in the doorway,″ said Pat Brickman, a Metro-Dade police spokesman. ``The bus driver said she felt threatened because the subject, when he argued with her, he would reach inside his jacket. She thought he might shoot her.″
Television video showed police swarming around the bus’s front door and then dragging the suspect away. By late morning, the suspect’s bloody body lay in an alley near the restaurant covered with a yellow tarp.
Police said the hijacker, who worked as a waiter at Joe’s restaurant and had some tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service, told police he had a bomb and threatened to blow up the bus. Police said they determined afterward that the device the man had in what police described as a satchel or handbag was not a bomb.
Dade County schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo said 11 students and a driver were on the bus by the time it reached Miami Beach. An aide, a mother and two other students were on the bus when it was first hijacked but were let off at two different stops early on in the ordeal, authorities said.
The 11 children who remained on the bus throughout the hijacking were described by the principal as ``special needs″ students with speech impediments. The children and their parents hugged and wept in an emotional reunion just before midday at Blue Lakes.
One of the children, 7-year-old Brian Morales, was interviewed as he was reunited with his family and would only say the hijacker was ``a bad person.″
Henry Fraind, a county schools spokesman, said the children and the two school employees escaped serious injury.
``Fortunately, today we were lucky nobody was harmed,″ Fraind said.
But at least one student was cut by flying glass from a window that was broken when the suspect was shot, and the student was taken to a hospital, officials at the scene said.
The aide, a diabetic, also was taken to a hospital for an insulin shot, they said.
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.″
Ralph Fernandez, another Metro-Dade police spokesman, said the man pushed his way past a woman trying to put her disabled child on at a scheduled stop.
``She was helping put the child on the bus,″ Fernandez said. ``She was pushed out of the way by the individual, who then took over the bus.″
At one point, the bus stopped and let the aide out. The bus stopped again and let the mother and two students out. The bus stopped again as police threw a cellular phone in to help with negotiations, police said.
Metro-Dade and Florida Highway Patrol cruisers formed a convoy around the bus as the hijacker directed its driver north on State Road 826 and then east toward downtown on State Road 836, a major east-west highway.
The bus traveled slowly during the trip on the two major highways, trailed by dozens of police cars with flashing lights. Television helicopters hovered overhead and broadcast live shots of the hijacking.
``The kids were crying throughout and every time the bus would stop, the hijacker would stoop down ... and surround himself by the children so that officers could not see anyone was on the bus,″ Brickman said.
During the hijacking, the bus driver kept in radio contact with authorities and passed along the hijacker’s demands, said Randy Egues, a 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 police spokesman. ``We’re not sure of all the demands he might have been making.″
After they were rescued, the children were carried crying into the nearby restaurant where they were given ice cream and other goodies.
``When they got the ice cream, they felt a lot better,″ said Visiedo, the schools superintendent.
Two employees of Joe’s told The Associated Press the hijacker had worked there as a waiter but walked off the job Wednesday night apparently because of the tax dispute.
Worried parents raced to the scene in Miami Beach, along with Visiedo.
``The bus driver frankly was a hero,″ Visiedo said. ``She never panicked. She was there, concerned primarily for the safety of the children. Both her and the bus aide. Really, both of them did an outstanding job.″
One parent, Vivian Ellis, waited for her child at the school. ``They’re OK. I’m happy,″ she said, weeping.