Investigators are trying to determine what prompted a man to open fire on a Greyhound bus that was traveling on Interstate 5 through Kern County, killing a 51-year-old woman and wounding five others early Monday.
The bus, which had 43 people on board, including the driver, left Los Angeles about 11:30 p.m. Sunday and was scheduled to make stops in the cities of Avenal and Oakland before ending its route in San Francisco about 7:20 a.m. Monday. About 1:30 a.m. as the bus was traveling near Lebec, one of the passengers pulled out a black handgun and opened fire, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Brian Pennings said.
“I’ve been on for 25 years, and I’ve never seen this happen,” Pennings said.
After the shooting, the bus driver pulled to the right shoulder of the freeway, and authorities said the shooter voluntarily got off.
“The driver of the bus immediately pulled to the right shoulder and somehow — we’re still trying to figure out how this happened — were able to coerce the suspect off of the bus,” Pennings said, calling the driver’s actions heroic.
The bus driver then traveled to the next freeway exit, at Grapevine Road, stopping at a Valero gas station to get medical treatment for the passengers. Five passengers were taken to hospitals for treatment. One of the people wounded was flown to an emergency room; the rest were taken by ambulance. Authorities said two people are in serious condition.
A 51-year-old woman from Colombia was pronounced dead at the scene, Pennings said. The ages and genders of the others who had been shot were not immediately available.
The suspect, who was located by officers and taken into custody, left behind the handgun and additional ammunition on the bus, Pennings said. His name has not been released. Federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working to trace the weapon.
“There were extra magazines with the weapon,” Pennings said. “What the intent was ... I can’t comment on.”
Mark Grabban, 29, who was traveling on the bus with his girlfriend, told NBC that he noticed the suspect immediately because of the man’s height. He said the man was talking loudly and “incoherently” when he got on the bus and got into an argument with someone who asked him to quiet down.
“He was muttering things, about ‘wait till we get to the station,’ ” Grabban said.
He said the man suddenly began shouting expletives before he heard the sound of a gun cock, followed by eight or nine shots.
“I dove to the floor right to under the seat. I got to my girlfriend, tried to put her head down. I was just waiting for the next shot. I was assuming I was going to get shot,” he said. “There was a mother with two small girls, who were either 4 or 3, frozen with fear, and I was shaking, telling them to stay down.”
Photos from the scene early Monday showed the bus parked at a Valero gas station in Lebec as authorities combed through the vehicle for evidence.
Representatives for Greyhound said they do not allow weapons on their buses. They declined to answer questions about the bus carrier’s security procedures, but provided a statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone and every family member impacted by the incident today,” the statement said. “We are gathering details and will assist the Kern County police in every way possible during their investigation.”