A gunman boarded an Alabama school bus ferrying children home from school on Tuesday and fatally shot the driver before fleeing with a young child and holing up in an underground bunker, Alabama media reported.
Sheriff's officials confirmed that one person had been killed in a shooting involving a school bus in Alabama's Dale County but gave scant details other than to say that a child was present at the scene in Midland City.
The gunman fled to a bunker near his home hours after the shooting, but it was not immediately clear if he still had the child, who local media variously identified as 5 or 6 years old, the Dothan Eagle newspaper said.
"All we know is he shot the bus driver and took a 6-year-old child," Carol Shephard told the paper, saying her own child had been on the bus at the time of the incident.
The shooting comes as the nation is on edge about gun violence, especially in schools, after a gunman shot dead 20 students and six staff members at a Connecticut elementary school last month, stoking a national debate on gun control.
The suspected shooter remains barricaded in the bunker and law enforcement officials were negotiating with him, according to media reports.
Alabama media reported that the incident happened at approximately 4 p.m. local time when the suspect demanded the driver let a student off the bus.
When the driver refused, the man boarded the bus, then shot the driver before taking the child and fleeing the scene.
"I spoke to about three or four of the students," Michael Senn, a local minister whose church is near the scene, told Alabama NBC affiliate WSFA. "One of them was a young lady and she told me that when the man entered the bus ... he told most of them to get off the bus and he grabbed a 5-year-old little boy."
"From what I understand, kids were running down the road behind the church trying to get to safety."
One resident of the area who arrived quickly on the scene said he tried to give chase before he realized that the gunman had taken cover in his own private bunker. "I ran into his yard. I didn't realize it was him actually at the time. I ran past his house ... and the underground bomb shelter he is in," resident Mike Hill told the local television station. The sheriff's department said multiple agencies were assisting with the incident and local area schools would be closed on Wednesday.