Suspect in armed bus hijacking in Atlanta spoke to local media at a shooting scene hours earlier

Updated

The man charged with murder and kidnapping after the hijacking of a bus in Atlanta on Tuesday was interviewed by local media about witnessing a shooting mere hours earlier.

Joseph Grier, 39, spoke to NBC affiliate WXIA of Atlanta at the scene of a shooting at Peachtree Center Mall on Tuesday afternoon, where a gunman shot three people before he was shot and wounded by a police officer.

Grier, wearing a gray shirt, recounted seeing the suspect get into a confrontation with someone before shots rang out.

“So I’m leaving out of the thing,” Grier said, pointing to the mall. “So I see the shooter, I guess, you know what I’m saying.”

“He ran off … and I guess, I don’t know if he pulled a gun or what he did. I was scared because I don’t have a gun, I can’t have one,” Grier said.

In the interview, Grier appeared to ramble and told reporters that he has bipolar disorder, had been off his medication for two weeks and was experiencing a manic episode. He also said that he was armed with knives and that he had previously been in jail.

“Right now I'm in an extreme mode,” he told reporters.

He was arrested hours later wearing that same shirt in his mugshot and is accused of hijacking a Gwinnett County Transit bus in Atlanta that had 17 people on board, including the driver, officials said.

Grier boarded the bus at 4:20 p.m. and got into an argument with a male passenger that escalated into a fight, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

The passenger then pulled out a gun, which Grier took and began to threaten passengers with it, according to officials. He allegedly shot the passenger and ordered the bus driver to flee the scene, the GBI said.

A law enforcement chase was launched as the bus drove into Gwinnett County, then east into DeKalb County. During the pursuit, the bus hit several police vehicles and its tires were flattened.

Ultimately, a Georgia State Patrol Trooper fired his patrol rifle into the engine compartment of the bus to cause it to malfunction and stop running, the GBI said.

The pursuit ended on Hugh Howell Road in Stone Mountain, and Grier was taken into custody without further incident.

The bus passenger who was shot was taken to a local hospital and died. He was identified by Atlanta Police on Wednesday as Earnest Byrd Jr., 58.

The bus driver was also taken to a local hospital for treatment. No further injuries were reported, Atlanta police said.

Grier, of Stone Mountain, was booked into the Fulton County Jail Wednesday morning on 14 counts of kidnapping, 14 counts of aggravated assault, one count of murder, one count of hijacking a motor vehicle, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and one count of possession of a knife or firearm during commission of a certain felony, police said.

It's not immediately clear if he has an attorney.

Atlanta Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are investigating.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said in a news conference Tuesday that "we don’t know yet" why Grier hijacked the bus.

He described Grier as a felon who has been arrested 19 times.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens likened the chase as something “like the movies,” adding, “I think mental health is going to play a role in some of this, but you’re talking about too many guns in the hands of individuals that should not have guns.”

Felicia Kinsey, Bryrd's fiancee, told NBC News on Wednesday that Byrd was “the most amazing man I’ve ever known.”

She said that she had his location on her phone and spent Tuesday afternoon watching his location go around in circles during the bus hijacking. She kept trying to call him, to no avail.

Joseph Grier speaks during an interview (WXIA)
Joseph Grier speaks during an interview (WXIA)

Kinsey remembered Byrd was a “big brother” to everyone.

“I just know he stood up to that man on the bus,” she said.

She said she and Byrd had grown up next to each other in North Carolina and moved to Atlanta because Kinsey wanted to live there. Kinsey said Byrd doesn’t have any family in the area and his funeral will be in New York.

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