By Johnny Jackson
What seemed like just another ordinary school day quickly turned scary around 8 a.m. Friday morning for Henry County Schools bus driver Tanya Roberts and 38 students en route to Luella middle and high schools.
While on her route Roberts noticed that one of her pickups who normally stands in his driveway, was sitting in a pickup truck for what he said was protection. Moments later, the driver watched a passing jogger stumble in mid stride.
Then she heard a noise. Tink, tink, tink.
“I didn't know what it was,” said Roberts. “So, I told them (the students) to get on the floor.”
The tink, tink, tink that Roberts heard Friday turned out to be rounds of gunfire that inadvertently struck the bus while a nearby shooter was taking what she thought was target practice.
No one was injured as county and city police responded to a call from Henry County Schools Transportation Services that shots were fired at school bus number 62-1 at the corner of Colvin Drive and South Bethany Road in Locust Grove.
According to Henry County Police Lt. Jason Bolton, the accident happened when Mary Faircloth, 52, of Colvin Drive, shot target practice with a Beretta 9 mm she recently purchased.
The bus was hit by four rounds of stray bullets, bullets that ricocheted off the front driver's side of the bus.
According to Bolton, Faircloth fired at a makeshift target in a grassy field about 200 to 250 yards away from the unseen roadway. Police inspections noted that she unknowingly struck the Henry County school bus with four 9mm rounds. While no one was injured in the incident, Faircloth was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor of reckless conduct. She was released late Friday morning on bond.
On what began as a typical day, Roberts began to suspect something was wrong when one student came out of a truck to get on the bus.
“I picked up a child who normally stands in his driveway,” she said. ”I noticed today he was sitting in a truck.” The student later explained he had something fly by him earlier that morning and he sat in the truck for protection.
But it wasn't until shortly after watching a nearby jogger stumble while running down South Bethany Road that things truly got scary.
“He stumbled and then crouched down,” she said. “I wondered, you know, are you O.K.? Then, I saw him take off up the road. He ran as fast as he could. And I heard it. Tink, tink, tink.”
Roberts immediately backed the bus up and called an emergency into Henry County dispatch.
Jacqueline Holmes, who drives bus number 76-6 for Henry County high and middle schools, heard the call, which was transmitted to nearly every bus on their routes Friday morning.
“I heard it over the radio,” Holmes said. “It was scary to me. I was afraid for her and her kids. It was serious. It was like, 'somebody help her, please.'”
Christina Montalvo,15, a Luella High ninth grader who lives on Colvin Drive near where the shots occurred normally rides the bus to school with her two brothers, David, 16, and Emilio, 13. But her mother Amy drove Christina and her the siblings to school Friday morning because Emilio needed to carry a project to school, she said.
Amy Montalvo said gunshots are nothing extraordinary in an spacious neighborhood where vehicles glide abruptly onto a gravel-dirt road along South Bethany Road.
“It's a long route down a dirt road. We had about 15 or 20 minutes to go on the route. It was a scary situation for us all,” said Roberts, who equally shaken was worried about her own children's safety as well. “I'd like to see how my kids are doing. I love my kids.”
While at first unsure if she would be able to drive children home on Friday afternoon, Roberts managed to finish her day, busing a group of students home that included Christina Montalvo who was also feeling the effects of a frightening experience.
Added Montalvo, “It was a little bit anxious when the bus driver got to our street.”