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Gary school bus driver recounts terror of shooters using her bus for cover

Updated: December 24, 2012 7:09AM



GARY — The driver of bus No. 648 doesn’t have children of her own, but maternal instincts kicked in full force Monday afternoon when gunfire erupted just as two girls stepped onto the curb.

A kindergarten student, small for her age, was already on the sidewalk, her older sister right behind when the shooting started.

“Get back on the bus, get on the bus, hurry up,” the driver shouts. Her words and actions were recorded on a security camera installed on the bus.

The driver watched in horror as the younger girl dropped to the ground.

“I saw her go to the wall (of her apartment building) and just fall. I needed to get that little girl back on the bus, whatever it took,” the 38-year-old Gary resident recalled Wednesday. She does not want to be identified for fear of retaliation from the shooters.

“I ran out and got her, brought her back to the bus,” she said.

The girl was not hurt.

One man, Leonte Willis, 23, was shot in the side. He ran from the scene clutching his wound, then collapsed near the hospital, just a block from the scene at 5th Avenue and Hayes Street.

Jamal Washington, director of community relations for Illinois Central School Bus Inc., praised the driver for her quick, calm response.

“There’s a lot of negativity in Gary. This is a chance to show the world that there are people who care, who will go above and beyond to protect our children,” Washington said.

The video shows men running outside near the bus and then six very loud shots in rapid succession.

“There were seven men, one in front, one in back and two or three on each side, they were all around,” the driver told The Post-Tribune. “They were using my bus as cover.”

While recalling details of the incident, the driver closed her eyes, visibly shaken by the memories. When Illinois Central manager Curtis Morris played the tape for reporters, she covered her ears to avoid hearing the shots again.

As the shooters scattered and the victim fled, elementary and middle school students from Gary Lighthouse Charter can be heard crying on the tape recording. But over their cries and whimpers, the driver kept talking to them.

“I am not letting you off this bus without a parent. That could have been one of you, I would be hurt,” she repeated.

“I told my kids I am very proud of them,” she said. “I have practice drills with them, I knew they were safe on the bus.”

Detective Lorenzo Davis, who is investigating the shooting, commended the driver for her heroic action and the bus company for providing a video of the incident.

“She kept it pretty cool,” Davis said.

Washington said Illinois Central will make computer software available to police so they can access the recording if another incident occurs.

Anyone with information on the shooting may call Davis at 881-4738.



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