1 fatally shot on Atlanta-area transit bus that led officers on wild rush hour chase, police say

One person died after being shot on a commuter bus Tuesday afternoon that led officers on a wild chase for miles from Atlanta into the suburbs.
Bus Chase
Posted at 7:39 PM, Jun 11, 2024

One person died after being shot on a commuter bus Tuesday afternoon that led officers on a wild chase for miles from Atlanta into an outlying suburb, striking several vehicles as it barreled through rush hour traffic with frightened passengers aboard, authorities said.

TV news helicopters followed the dramatic pursuit of the Gwinnett County Transit bus, which police said took off after officers responded to a report of gunfire on a bus and a possible hostage situation just after 4:30 p.m. near downtown Atlanta.

The helicopter footage showed the bus striking multiple vehicles during the chase and crossing onto the wrong side of a road with police in pursuit. At one point an officer could be seen waiting on a highway and then throwing a device under the bus trying to stop it. The bus continued on, weaving in and around other vehicles.

Atlanta police said the bus was eventually stopped miles away in neighboring DeKalb County and that Joseph Grier, 39, was taken into custody as police vehicles swarmed all around. As officers cleared the bus of passengers, they found an adult victim with a gunshot wound. Authorities said that person, whose name was not immediately released, was taken to a hospital and died from their injuries.

There were 17 people on the bus, including the driver, but no further injuries were reported on the bus, police said. News photos showed an armored police SWAT vehicle squarely blocking the front of the bus, which was also flanked by a firetruck. Afterward, a lighted digital sign above the bus windshield still read: “EMERGENCY” and “CALL POLICE 911.”

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters that an officer arrived on the initial scene in the downtown area about a minute after the initial 911 call came in. When the officer confronted the suspect, the man forced the bus driver to drive off, he said.

Officers were following the bus when another 911 call came in from a family member of a bus passenger who said he was getting text messages that there had been a hijacking and people were being held hostage, Schierbaum said.

Then police received another 911 call from the bus, and that line remained open during the entire chase until the bus came to a stop, the chief said. Information from that call was fed to officers from multiple agencies involved in the pursuit and allowed them to “craft an end of this hostage situation,” he said.

Grier, whose last known address was in suburban Stone Mountain, had previously been arrested 19 times and had felony convictions, meaning he shouldn't have had a gun, Schierbaum said.

It was not known Tuesday night if Grier had an attorney who could comment on his behalf. And there was no immediate announcement by authorities of possible charges in the case.

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The initial 911 call came just as Schierbaum and Mayor Andre Dickens had finished briefing reporters on a shooting at a food court in a downtown Atlanta mall in which they said a man shot three people before he was shot by an off-duty police officer. The suspect and the three victims were all taken to hospitals but were expected to survive.

Schierbaum said investigators do not believe there is a link between the food court shooting and the bus hijacking.

“Today has been a very active day, but let me be clear, we're talking about gun violence that is a result of too many people having guns in their hands,” Dickens said. He added that it's possible that mental health issues may have played a role, but added that “you're talking about too many guns in the hands of individuals that should not have guns, too many guns on our streets, too many guns in our homes, too many guns in our schools and buses, etc.”

John Gilbert of suburban Dacula said his wife, Paulette, takes the bus to and from downtown Atlanta for work three days a week. He said she called him from the bus and said one man had shot another man. Gilbert told his wife to get off the phone because he didn't want the man to think she was calling police and shoot her.

Then he waited for 40 or 45 minutes without knowing what was going on before his wife finally called him once she was off the bus.

“I felt like I had a hole in me,” Gilbert said through tears. “I'm just glad she's alright.”