Before I pull away from the Elementary school, I make an announcement on my radio. If anyone needs to tell me something please do not stand up while the bus is moving. Tell me at your stop. If anyone is being hurt, or has an emergency, raise your hand and I will pull over.
This particular group of children had been very unruly over the past few weeks, and I am just trying to get them home safe. If they are all behaving well enough for me to keep driving, and the parents of the little ones are at their stops, it should take me 20 minutes to reach the last bus stop. I have not completed this route in less than 35 minutes, since the day I received the assignment to drive it. I have had to write several discipline referrals for some of the children of this route for behaviors like spitting, hitting, hair pulling, and on one occasion, a child opened the window and threw their own backpack out.
This day was going to be the worst of my career; I just did not know it yet. I pull away from the school. Watching the road, there are cars everywhere, of parents that are trying to pick up their children. There are children that are walking home; my focus has to be outside the bus right now. When we get about a mile away, I am able to shift my focus, alternating, outside, inside, mirrors, and speed. I look up into the mirror at the children, and just about every child in the rear of the bus has their hand raised. I’m thinking, here we go again, I pull over. What happens next is a true nightmare.
I make my way down the aisle. As I get to the first row of seats where the hands are raised, a child stands and whispers in my ear. “He has a gun”. I stop in my tracks. Scared out of my mind what a child might do with a gun if they got scared. I take a deep breath and walk back to the front of the bus to call my dispatcher for help.
I tell the children I am having a problem with the bus. I had to keep them as calm as I could. Luckily, none of them overheard what I had said to the dispatcher. It seemed as if the bus was there for a very long time, but I know it has only been minutes. Time is moving slower now. I have to stay calm. The police are coming.
Another bus pulls beside me; she has an assistant with her on her bus who offers to stay with us until “help” arrives. One of the children says “look, there is a helicopter”. It sure was, a News helicopter circling above us, high up. Then the Principal from the school arrives, before they were able to exit their vehicle, police cars, from every direction, followed immediately by my supervisor. I’m still inside, with the assistant from the other bus, and a lot of confused children. The other bus that had pulled over is directed to leave.
A very kind-faced police officer comes to the door. The officer requests that everyone exit the bus with their belongings, and line up beside it. I tell the children, we are going to do and evacuation, just like we practice, except, everyone bring your backpacks with you, and line up in the grass right beside the bus. As the children exit, each one in turn gives their backpack to a police officer, who searches it and places it on the ground in front of the student it belongs to, the children are frisked. Nothing is found.
The focus then switches to the bus. All seats are being inspected by the assistant, me, and the kind-faced officer. Then I spot something on the floor, under seat 8, on the passenger side. I pick it up. It is a knife, the folding kind, but large, like the grip of a gun. The officer takes it from me, and goes outside.
All of the children say it is not theirs. The children are all loaded back onto the bus, with the exception of one, the one who whispered to me. The police and the principal speak briefly with the student, then they are put on the bus and I am told to drive them home. It has been about 40 minutes since I pulled over.
As I reach the stops, there are parents, many more than usual, waiting for their babies. They all want to know why I am so late; I say “there was an incident.” I then direct them to call the school or my supervisor for the details. By the time the route was complete, it was so late, that the other 2 routes that I normally would do after, were completed by other drivers. They were all home, safe.