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Atlanta Bus Hijacking: How the Chaotic Chase Unfolded


Atlanta police had barely finished notifying the community about a chaotic shooting at a downtown food court Tuesday afternoon when calls came in about another catastrophe — this one fatal – that started to unfold.

Just a half-mile away, a gunman had hijacked a commuter bus carrying 17 people, prompting passengers to frantically text their loved ones and call 911 for help, police said.

But when police arrived on the scene and tried to confront the gunman, identified as 39-year-old felon Joseph Grier, the suspect held the bus driver at gunpoint and forced him to run, according to Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum.

The ensuing rush-hour police chase zigzagged along highway lanes and suburban streets as the bus led authorities through at least two provinces, sometimes crashing into other cars and crossing oncoming traffic.

Inside, a passenger remained surreptitiously on the phone with 911, allowing authorities to hear the commotion, Schierbaum said. Mayor Andre Dickens said the chaos sounded like a movie scene as the suspect “had a gun to the head of a bus driver who said, ‘Don’t stop this bus or worse will happen.'”

When the bus finally came to a stop on a tree-lined street in the suburb of Stone Mountain, passengers poured out and Grier was arrested without incident, police said.

A passenger who was shot on the bus was taken to a hospital, where he later died, officials said. The victim’s identity will be released after the family is notified.

The suspect has 19 previous felony convictions, police said, but no further details were provided. CNN has not been able to determine whether the suspect has an attorney.

Here’s what you need to know.

The hijacked Gwinnett County Transit bus is part of a web of commuter routes that bring people in and out of Atlanta’s sprawling suburbs, including passenger Paulette Gilbert, who called her husband from the bus as the incident began to unfold.

Paulette Gilbert seemed bewildered and scared as she described a man who had gotten on a bus and started acting strangely, said her husband, Johnny Gilbert. She said the man confronted another passenger and shot them, possibly in the leg.

“She said the guy got on the bus and looked kind of crazy,” Gilbert said, telling his wife’s story. “He was being disruptive or getting on people’s nerves,” he added.

Around 4:30 p.m., police received the first 911 call from a passenger reporting that a gunman was holding the bus hostage on Ivan Allen Boulevard and that shots may have been fired, Schierbaum said. Then the line went silent.

The man urged his wife to answer the phone in case the gunman thought she was calling 911, fearing he would shoot her next. “I said put the phone down and put it away. Just sit still.”

Shortly afterwards, another call came in from the family of a passenger who had texted them that the bus had been hijacked.

An officer arrived on scene within about a minute of the initial 911 call and attempted to confront the suspect, who then “forced the bus driver to drive away,” Schierbaum said.

A third 911 call — this time from a different passenger on board — remained on the line throughout the chase, allowing dispatchers to relay information to various law enforcement agencies involved in the chase, the chief said.

The bus led a fleet of law enforcement vehicles along Interstate 85 in Atlanta as commuters sped past during rush hour, then drove through several suburbs before coming to a stop in Stone Mountain.

The large bus struck several vehicles during the chase, police said, but it is unclear whether any drivers were injured.

Police were able to disable the vehicle using several tactics, including placing an armored vehicle on one of its sides where its tires were balding, preventing it from maneuvering in that direction, police said.

When the bus came to a stop, the passengers began unloading and Grier was arrested without incident, police said. A passenger who was found with a gunshot wound later died at a hospital.

A joint investigation into the hijacking will be conducted by the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.