GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News is getting rare access and new insight into how Gwinnett County police peacefully ended a SWAT standoff in a bus.
The incident happened Tuesday along Interstate 85.
Gwinnett police say they use buses to train for something like this. Among other things, they learn how to disable the bus and not be harmed by an onboard gunman.
For police, it’s a worst-case scenario and they quickly realized Tuesday exactly what they were dealing with.
“It was very apparent this was a mental health crisis,” said Cpl. Tracey Reed with Gwinnett County Police Department’s behavioral health unit.
Police said 911 calls and texts came in from passengers on the bus, one writing, “If you see windows popping out on sides of but, it’s us escaping.”
SWAT teams arrived on the interstate onramp from Indian Trial to find passengers pouring out of rooftop escape hatches and even windows.
SWAT members rushed to protect them, not knowing if gunman Jaylin Backman, 22, would let them go or open fire.
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“I’ve been on SWAT for 20 years and we’ve never had a situation on a bus. We train several times a year to be able to handle hostage situations on a bus,” Gwinnett County SWAT Commander Lt. Bryan Reavis said.
One passenger remained. Negotiators used his phone to open discussions with Backman. The passenger left, leaving Backman alone.
“He requested to speak with his grandmother. She was on scene, and we allowed them to speak for a little bit. This put him more at ease,” Sgt. Danielle Bell with the Gwinnett County Police Department said.
For more than three hours, negotiations would continue. I-85 was shut down. Thomas was at the scene Tuesday and watched SWAT teams move around the bus.
“He relayed he was afraid to be hurt because of the type of officers that were on scene,” Bell said.
“We spent a lot of time talking with the suspect’s family,” Cpl. Tracey Reed with Gwinnett Police Department’s behavioral health unit said
Backman ultimately gave up and no one was hurt.
“With a chaotic scene there’s not a lot of time to think about the gravity of the situation,” Reavis said.
“Our goal was to make sure he was safe,” Bell said.
Thomas asked the SWAT commander what he learned from the incident, and he said while they train on buses, they need to practice on an actual Greyhound with its unusual layout.
Oddly enough, their previously planned training for next month was a bus hostage situation.
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