JOHNSONVILLE, SC (WMBF) – The driver of the Johnsonville Elementary School bus, where an alleged sexual assault involving several students took place, was a substitute who no longer works for Florence School District 5, according to Superintendent Randy Smiley. The driver was not involved in the alleged assault, but was driving at the time.
District and school officials are still dealing with issues stemming from the reported incident, which happened last week and remains under investigation by Florence County law enforcement.
A surveillance camera caught the alleged assault on the bus, which was carrying elementary-level students between kindergarten and fourth grade.
All students involved are currently receiving counseling from Pee Dee Mental Health.
"Did I ever want this to happen? Absolutely not. Absolutely not," said Johnsonville Elementary Principal Dayne Coker. "Initially, I was absolutely nauseated, then I was angry. I was going through these steps as if I had lost someone."
Law enforcement was called to the school on March 9, where the principal said a student had told one of her teachers that a sexual assault had occurred on the bus during the ride home from school the day before, according to a Florence County Sheriff's Office incident report.
Once the accusation was made, the teacher reviewed the bus surveillance tape, which allegedly showed what was believed to be a possible rape, the report stated.
Several children allegedly witnessed the incident, according to the report. One student is said to have tried to shield the incident from the bus driver's view.
Coker said the only positive for her is that the young girl came forward the very next day to tell the school what had happened, and that every child is getting the counseling they need.
"This particular situation horrified me. We all just broke down in tears to know that this happened to one of our babies, because they are ours when they walk through those doors," she said. "When they get off those buses, they are our babies and we are in charge of them. We care for them. We love these children."
Five surveillance cameras were on the bus at the time and captured what took place during the afternoon ride home.
"We are able to see the front part of the bus, we can see the middle part, we can see the back, and areas maybe the bus driver can't see at the moment when he is driving," said a school social worker who wished to remain anonymous. "When we have smaller children on the bus, you can actually zoom in to where they are sitting to give us a better view."
Cooker said most of her teachers are in denial because people don't expect an incident like this to happen to kids so young.
"It's devastating and frustrating that we can't answer all the parents' questions that they have," she said. "I would be asking. I am a mother and a grandmother. I would be asking questions too."
The district says it's their job to protect the children involved. Shirley Floyd, the school's guidance Counselor for nearly 30 years, said the sexual prevention program they use for education is called "Darkness to Light Stewards of Children."
"If you notice things at home that aren't quite right, you can tell when a child is under stress, I mean, if you talk to them," she said.
Floyd added there is no limit someone can put on talking to a child, and there is no age either.
"It can happen to the youngest children and we have to be aware of that," she said. "It's all over, all over the country, all over the world. This is something we have to be aware it does happen. "