Officials with the Pulaski County Special School District gathered Wednesday afternoon to honor the school bus driver who “did everything right” after her bus was hijacked by a knife-wielding man in Jacksonville late last Thursday.
District Superintendent Jerry Guess, the Mayor of Jacksonville Gary Fletcher, law enforcement officers and parents were on hand to praise the efforts of 51-year old Sheila Hart, who says she first thought the hijacker, 22-year old Nicholas John Miller, was a parent when he first approached her bus.
“You know parents come to your bus all the time and they ask you questions,” she said after the ceremony.
“So, I just assumed he was one of those. So I set my brake, opened my door...and then he came across [the street] and jumped on my bus and he said, ‘drive’ and I said, ‘what?’ And he flipped the knife out and he said, ‘Drive. Shut the door and drive.’ And that’s what I did and I said, ‘OK, OK, where do you want to go, what’s wrong?”
Hart then recounted some of her later interactions with Miller:
“I kept telling him to be careful and I kept asking him to be careful and ‘could me and the [students] get off?’ You know, ‘let’s just take them to school.’ And I told him you can have this bus, just let us off. You know, I just want to take them to school. And of course he said yes and then of course he didn’t [take them to school]…We made a wrong turn and I could tell he was getting a little irritable and the radio was going and then we got out to the road and just kept driving.”
Eventually police were able to stop the bus after a long chase. District officials said Hart’s calm and collected behavior during the incident greatly decreased the chances of Miller doing any serious harm.
No one was injured during the incident. Hart was presented with several awards, including a symbolic key to the city of Jacksonville. Also honored were officers from the Jacksonville Police Department and the Arkansas State Police, as well as a parent Karlena Lipari, who prevented other students from entering the bus and immediately called 9-1-1. 11 elementary school children were on board.