UPDATE: Driver abducts children, sets bus ablaze in Italy

2019-03-20 15:19
Firefighters stand by the gutted remains of a bus in San Donato Milanese, near Milan. (Daniele Bennati, ANSA via AP)

Firefighters stand by the gutted remains of a bus in San Donato Milanese, near Milan. (Daniele Bennati, ANSA via AP)

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A bus driver in northern Italy abducted 51 schoolchildren and their chaperones on Wednesday and took them on an hour-long drive, then set the vehicle on fire when he was stopped by a Carabinieri blockade, officials said.

Officers broke the glass in the back door of the bus and got all the passengers to safety without serious injury before the flames destroyed the vehicle. As he was apprehended, the driver said he was protesting migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, Commander Luca De Marchis said.

De Marchis told Sky24 TV that the driver, an Italian citizen of Senegalese origin in his 40s, threatened the passengers, telling them that "no one would survive" as he commandeered the bus carrying two middle-school classes in Cremona province, some 40km from Milan.

An adult called an emergency operator, while one of the students called a parent, and they alerted authorities, who set up roadblocks. The bus was intercepted on the outskirts of Milan by three Carabinieri vehicles, which were able to force it into the guard rail, De Marchis said.

"While two officers kept the driver busy – he took a lighter and threatened to set fire to the vehicle with a gasoline canister on board – the others forced open the back door," De Marchis said. While the evacuation was underway, the driver started the blaze.

De Marchis credited the officers' "swiftness and courage", for getting out all the children and their teachers "with no tragic consequences".

Some of the passengers were treated at a hospital, mostly for cuts and scratches related to the evacuation, he said.

The driver, who lived in Cremona and was married with two children, was being treated for burns.

Sky TG24 said that the driver had worked for the bus company for 15 years without any employment-related issues. De Marchis said he had previous convictions, but he did not specify their nature other than to say they were not serious crimes.

Video showed firefighters dousing the bus that had been completely gutted by flames, leaving only the charred metal frame.

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