The portly outline of a school bus is an image virtually synonymous with safety: a protected environment where gum on the seats or a bully in the back is about as bad as problems get. But last week, a pair of gun-toting B.C. teenagers blew that illusion to bits, at the same time fanning concerns that youth crime is out of control. Armed with a stolen .357 Magnum handgun, two boys aged 16 and 17 hijacked a bus carrying 14 elementary schoolchildren, and demanded to be taken from Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley to Ontario. Still shaken by the incident that ended without injury, bus driver Ed Scheer recalled that one youth seemed obsessed with the powerful weapon. “He kept rolling the barrel and playing with it,” Scheer told Maclean’s. Both boys—who cannot be named under the provisions of the Young Offenders Act—seemed eerily unconcerned about the consequences. “They said they didn’t trust anybody—the police or the courts or the authorities,” Scheer said. “So I thought, ‘I better not try anything stupid.’ I didn’t think I was going to live through it.”
Scheer’s cool head has been credited with helping end the incident within three hours of the hostage-taking. During a stop at an RV dealership, where the boys tried to trade the bus for a motor home, Scheer convinced them to release eight of
the younger children. Back on the highway, Scheer whispered into his radio that the bus had been hijacked, resulting in a slow chase by police cruisers. Ninety minutes later, the boys surrendered to police, partly because Scheer helped persuade them. The children, however, will likely live with the aftershocks for some time. “The worst thing,” said Joe Simoes, owner of the RV dealership, “was seeing these kids—they were absolutely terrorized. They were screaming and crying, so I hugged a couple and said it would be OK.”
Many Canadians, however, worry that the country’s youth are not OK In Hamilton last week, 18-year-old Roberto Oliveira was murdered with a baseball bat, apparently by a gang seeking revenge against his 15-year-old brother. Elsewhere, two teenage boys were arrested for a May 21 incident in which shots were fired at passing cars near Casselman, southeast of Ottawa, nearly hitting two motorists. Earlier
last month, an 11-year-old Toronto boy—too young to be charged— was placed in the care of the Children’s Aid Society after he was ac-
cused of raping a 13-year-old girl.
The news is not all bad. In March, Statistics Canada reported that the total youth court caseload fell by five per cent in 19941995, after a decade of steady annual increases. But Fred Mathews, a psychologist with Central Toronto Youth Services, says that after talking to thousands of schoolage children, he believes many violent crimes still go unreported. “We don’t want to panic, but we cannot ignore the fact that 30 per cent of these kids say they feel safe only some of the time or never while they are at school,” he says. Trends such as the widespread use of crack cocaine, a tide of stolen handguns and too many overstressed families are pushing more children towards vicious crimes, Mathews says. “We can’t hide from the truth,” he warns. “This has to be taken seriously.”
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