Motive still a mystery, questions linger in Gwinnett school bus shooting

It’s been four days since a Suwanee woman allegedly fired a dozen bullets into the front window of a Gwinnett County school bus outside her home while four young students were on board.

Celeste Michele Saunders remained locked in a cell at the Gwinnett County Detention Center on Friday. A magistrate judge denied bond for the 57-year-old on most of her charges this week, deeming her a “danger to a person or community,” according to arrest warrants.

Questions still loom about Monday’s shooting, which did not injure any of the Riverside Elementary School children on the bus. Investigators have given no indications of Saunders’ alleged motive.

The incident occurred during the morning rush to transport students to school. Saunders fired a barrage of gunshots at the bus around 7:15 a.m. in the 300 block of Highland Gate Circle, police said.

Kathy Wheeler lives two doors down from the suspect. She said she and her husband heard the gunshots.

Asked if the incident frightened parents from letting their kids wait at the bus stop, she said, “I don’t think so. I think it was a very isolated incident. It’s just one of those things that’s crazy, but it happens.”

A background check reveals the suspect has no criminal history and suggests she’s lived at the home with her family off and on for nearly 20 years.

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Gwinnett police did not release reports about the incident this week.

Saunders faces four counts of first-degree cruelty to children and five counts of aggravated assault, along with weapons charges, tied to the shooting.

The incident has been the scuttlebutt this week among neighbors in the quiet Highlands at Bridgegate subdivision. Some speculated that Saunders was irritated by the noise the bus made as it passed her home each morning.

A Gwinnett police spokesperson confirmed that officers responded to a call from one of Saunders’ neighbors last month after she allegedly hit his car with rocks. Wheeler said the man was driving behind a school bus, the target Saunders was actually aiming to ding with the rocks.

The block had returned to its tranquil suburban character Friday afternoon, with very little activity outside the homes. A burgundy Mercedes-Benz SUV backed into Saunders’ driveway was the only sign that anyone lived there. No one answered when a reporter rang the front doorbell of her family’s home.

George Sutton, who lives a few houses down from Saunders, said it was the largest crowd in a while at Monday night’s homeowner’s association meeting. One of the main topics of discussion was the shooting earlier that day.

“Nobody knows anything. They’re just kind of quiet,” Sutton said of Saunders and her family. “Maybe she didn’t like the bus interrupting her walking her dogs in the morning. I don’t know.”

The arrest warrants shed little new light on the incident. According to the court documents, she opened fire on the bus with a Glock semiautomatic pistol. Police said the bus was pulling out of a stop when Saunders began shooting at it.

Patricia Rodriguez, the 56-year-old Sugar Hill woman driving the bus, suffered minor injuries from glass shattered by the gunfire. There are still tire marks in one neighbor’s front lawn from Rodriguez veering the bus into a yard to avoid the gunshots.

Wheeler noted that Rodriguez yelled for the students to duck when the shooting began, a subtle act that may have saved lives.

“She’s like a hero in this neighborhood,” Wheeler said of the bus driver.