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Man killed in Georgia bus hijacking shot by suspect with his own gun: Police

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(ATLANTA) — The suspect in a bus hijacking that prompted a police chase in Georgia allegedly got into a fight with a passenger before fatally shooting him with the victim’s own gun, authorities said.

The incident began at approximately 4:35 p.m. ET Tuesday in downtown Atlanta, when police responded to a report of gunfire on a Gwinnett County Transit bus and a “possible hostage situation,” the Atlanta Police Department said.

“Upon the officers’ arrival at the scene, the bus fled the location, and a pursuit ensued,” the Atlanta Police Department said in a press release.

The suspect — identified as 39-year-old Joseph Grier, of Stone Mountain — allegedly got into an argument with a male passenger after boarding the bus in downtown Atlanta, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The two got into a fight when the passenger then pulled out a gun, GBI said.

Grier allegedly took the man’s gun and “began threatening passengers with it” before shooting him, GBI said in a statement Wednesday.

“Grier then shot the passenger and ordered the bus driver to flee the scene while threatening passengers with the gun,” GBI said.

The suspect held the bus driver at gunpoint during the hijacking, according to Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.

There were 17 people on the bus at the time, including the bus driver, according to Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum.

During the pursuit, police received a 911 call from a family member of an occupant of the bus “saying he was receiving text messages that there had been a hijacking and that individuals were being held hostage against their will,” Schierbaum told reporters during a press briefing Tuesday evening.

Police then received another 911 call made from the bus, which remained open throughout the pursuit and provided information that helped “craft an end of this hostage situation,” the chief said.

The ensuing pursuit spanned multiple jurisdictions, during which police attempted “various tactics” to stop the bus, police said. The bus hit several police vehicles during the pursuit, GBI said.

The vehicle was ultimately disabled in Stone Mountain in DeKalb County, approximately 16 miles northeast of where the incident began, police said.

A Georgia State Patrol trooper fired his patrol rifle into the engine compartment of the bus, causing it to malfunction and stop running, according to GBI.

Once the bus stopped, DeKalb County SWAT officers positioned a Bearcat armored vehicle “to prevent any avenues of escape,” the DeKalb County Police Department said in a statement.

Grier was taken into custody without further incident, police said.

SWAT officers found the gunshot victim while clearing the bus, DeKalb County police said. The victim — identified as 58-year-old Earnest Byrd Jr. — was transported in critical condition to a local hospital, where he died, Atlanta police said.

Grier is accused of “knowingly and intentionally” shooting the victim in the leg and causing his death, according to the arrest affidavit. He has been charged with murder, as well as 14 counts of aggravated assault, 14 counts of kidnapping, hijacking a motor vehicle, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, police said Wednesday.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her office is unable to prosecute the case because one of her employees was on the bus, according to a letter she sent Wednesday to the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia requesting substitute counsel.

No other injuries were reported.

The investigation remains ongoing, Atlanta police said. GBI said it is also investigating the use of force by the state trooper.

A shaken passenger on the hijacked bus said the ordeal was “traumatic” and she is “thankful to be alive.”

“It was something that we’d never forget,” Paulette Gilbert, 60, told Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB, adding she has ridden the bus for many years without incident.

The bus shooting and hijacking occurred after a separate, unrelated incident where gunfire broke out at a food court at a downtown Atlanta shopping center on Tuesday afternoon, officials said. Three people were injured, and an off-duty Atlanta police officer shot the armed suspect, police said.

The suspect in the bus hijacking boarded the bus near the shopping center but was not involved in that shooting, Schierbaum said. The suspects in both incidents are convicted felons, he said.

Dickens decried the spate of gun violence that occurred Tuesday and said it is the “result of too many people having guns in their hands.”

“We all have to say enough is enough when it comes to too many people having guns in their hands and using them in violence,” he said. “I’m thankful for the men and women of the Atlanta Police Department and all these agencies here that minimized what could have been even more dangerous.”

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