LAKE STEVENS — A Lake Stevens man seemed determined to find drugs Friday morning when he forced his way onto a school bus full of 5- to 10-year-olds.
He accused the driver of dealing, hurled swear words at the elementary schoolchildren as he walked the length of the bus before stopping in front of Hope Anderson, 10.
He grabbed the fifth-grader’s backpack and told her, “Let’s see how much your parents love you,” then turned away, the girl’s mother, Kristen Anderson, said.
By the time the man, 46, left the bus, the children were crying and hiding beneath the seats.
“They were freaked out,” Anderson said. “Hope was scared.”
Sitting with his twin brother, Aaron Castle, 10, said he thought the man had a gun.
“I thought he was going to kill us,” the boy said.
Children and parents led Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies to the man’s home where a neighbor blocked his car in the driveway to prevent his escape.
The man, who has a criminal history, was arrested moments later. The arresting deputies took two knives from him, sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.
The children were frightened but no one was physically hurt, Lake Stevens School District spokeswoman Arlene Hulten said.
Later Friday, the man was booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of two counts of first-degree robbery, assaulting a police officer and second-degree malicious mischief.
On the way to jail, the man kicked out the window of a patrol car, kicked deputies, was subdued by pepper spray and then treated at an Everett hospital, Hover said.
Deputies asked that he be held in lieu of $60,000 bail.
Friday’s incident started sometime after 8 a.m. in the 9800 block of 38th Place SE, witnesses said.
The man first drove up to a boy waiting for the bus, got out and grabbed the boy’s backpack and then drove off, neighbor Sheryl Castle said.
Her twins were playing with the boy when his backpack was stolen.
Then man then apparently followed school bus No. 22 a few blocks.
When it stopped in the 8400 block of 97th Place NE, he allegedly forced his way onboard, Hover said. About 38 children were on the bus, from kindergartners to fifth-graders.
The driver tried to keep the doors closed and told the man to stay off her bus, but the man forced his way in, witnesses said.
He told the kids that the bus driver was dealing drugs and that his apricot toy poodle was going to find the contraband.
“He told Peaches to search for the drugs,” said Caleb Castle, 10.
A frantic parent alerted Kristine Rayevich and asked her to call 911.
She ran aboard the bus and confronted the man, who is well known in the neighborhood for being difficult, she said.
“I’m like, ‘What the hell?’” she said. “That’s not even your backpack.”
The man threatened her and forced his way back off the bus, where Castle confronted him, she said.
“Can I have the backpack back, please?” she said.
“He said, ‘No. I have warrants out for my arrest and you can have the backpack back when authorities get to my house,’” she said.
After talking to deputies on the bus, most of the children continued on to Glenwood Elementary where they were met by counselors, Hulten said.
Most were eager to get to class, she said.
Having a stranger barge onto a school bus is extremely rare.
“This is the first time I’ve heard that someone boarded a bus and stole something,” said Michael Martin, a spokesman for the School Bus Information Clearinghouse. The Albany, N.Y.-based center is a national resource on school transportation issues.
Allan Jones, who directs student transportation for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the case was “just bizarre.”
Short of posting a police officer at every bus stop, it is impossible to prevent an intruder from barging onto a bus if the person is determined enough, said Martin Speckmaier of Comprehensive School Safety LLC in Seattle. The retired Edmonds police detective and school resource officer works with school districts around Puget Sound.
“If a stranger wants to get on a bus, it’s relatively easy to do,” he said.
Drivers are dealing with more violent encounters on school buses. Some of those are problems with students, but an increasing number of incidents involve strangers who commandeer buses and take children hostage, he said.
They don’t usually grab kids’ backpacks, Speckmaier said.
“It almost sounds like (the suspect) has some mental issues,” he said.
Friday morning’s incident set off the school district’s crisis response plan, Hulten said.
Safety is a priority to the district and staff members are trained to deal with a variety of situations.
The school bus driver used a two-way radio to notify police and the district that the children were in danger, she said.
“The students and the bus driver all responded extremely well in a stressful situation,” Hulten said.
After school Friday, Aaron Castle said he was still in shock.
“I’m thinking about how scary it was,” he said.
The family lives up the street from the suspect’s home and neighbors all share stories of problems and near-weekly visits from the sheriff’s office.
The suspect has criminal convictions dating back to the 1980s. He has served time in prison for assault in the late 1990s after more than four years of being on the run in Florida from police in Snohomish County.
Late last month, he was arrested for investigation of violating a no-contact order.
Neighbor Cathy Rudd, 48, said it’s been a constant struggle living near the man and his family.
“He’s becoming very frightening,” she said. “He’s losing it. Our kids are at risk here.”
Now, the community is worried he’ll get out of jail and return.
“I’m irritated. I don’t think he’ll stay in very long,” Sheryl Castle said. “I just hope he stays gone for a long time, but he probably won’t.”
Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.