After This Bus Driver Saved 20 Students’ Lives, Ellen DeGeneres Did Something Incredible

Renita Smith was just another parent working hard to support her family in 2016 when fate intervened. A school bus driver by trade, Smith knew something was wrong as smoke filled her vehicle one day. When disaster struck, she took action and saved every student on board. Her incredible selfless act flew under the radar until Ellen DeGeneres found about it. The celebrity talk show host also found out something about Smith that shocked her even more, and she knew she had to do something.

Just Another Day

Renita Smith  school bus driver

Renita Smith was setting out for another day of work in September 2016 when her life changed forever. For the loving mother working full-time to support her family, the day started out like any other.

Smith got behind the wheel of her school bus and started her route picking up students in Maryland to drop off at their schools. The morning went off without a hitch, meaning all she had left to do was her evening route. Unfortunately, this is when everything went wrong.

A Flashing Brake Light

school bus stop sign
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

As Renita began picking up students on her evening route she noticed the brake light in her bus was on. She thought this was odd, but wasn’t overly concerned at first.

A brake light turning on could mean anything from a small repair being needed to something bigger. The most common reason a brake light comes on in a vehicle is that the brake fluid is low and needs to be refilled.

Smelling Smoke

students in a school bus
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Unfortunately for Renita Smith, the brake light being on meant disaster was about to strike. From the back of the bus, kids began complaining that they smelled smoke. There was no denying that something was seriously wrong.

Why did the bus smell like smoke, though? What had happened between the morning and evening that caused Smith’s bus to have issues? While we may not know that answer, we can tell you that the scariest part of the evening was still to come.

The Bus Caught On Fire

bus on fire in residential neighborhood

With everything going on, it was obvious that Renita couldn’t wait until her route was over to act. She quickly picked up her phone to call the transportation center when the bus burst into flames.

Driving through a residential neighborhood, Renita was forced to stop the bus and act fast. The children on board were four to ten-years-old and needed to be lined up in a straight line to get off the bus safely.

Into The Flames

school bus after the flames settled

Renita worked quickly to get the students off the bus. In total there should have been 20 students. With no time for a headcount, Smith ran back into the fire to make sure no one was left behind.

There was not. Renita Smith had done it. She had saved all 20 students on board her bus. She was a hero and had no idea just what kind of payment she was going to receive.

Mommy Mode

renita smith entering a classroom

Asked by news crews after the incident why she acted so quickly and so swiftly, Renita Smith said, “It’s my job, they’re my babies until I give them back to you.”

Smith added, “I’m a mom, I did what a mom would do.” There was nothing that was going to stop her from saving the students, even if it put her own life at risk. After the news report came out, Smith was praised as a local hero.

A Witness’ Account

the inside of a burned school bus

As the bus was aflame, a passing motorist pulled over to help. Of course, with Smith in charge, there wasn’t much he could do. As he told ABC News:

“She went inside and checked each seat to see if any of the students were left there… It’s a fairly long bus actually. It’s not a small bus. She checked if everyone was out and nobody was inside… She’s brave.”

College Park Named Her A Local Hero

renita smith honored as a hero
City of College Park/YouTube
City of College Park/YouTube

Shortly after saving the 20 students from the burning bus, the city of College Park, Maryland, recognized her publicly for her “courageous and heroic actions on September 27, 2016.”

Upon returning to her job, she was surprised by a welcome party of students whose lives she had affected. They held up “THANK YOU” signs and cheered her on. It wasn’t long before news of Smith’s actions were discovered by Ellen DeGeneres.

The Ellen DeGeneres Show

ellen degeneres show
Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic
Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic

Since 2003, Ellen DeGeneres has hosted her own daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It has won countless awards and has consistently been one of the highest-rated shows in syndication.

Part of the charm of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, aside from the host herself, is her giving nature. DeGeneres has never been afraid to give the spotlight to those who have never looked for it. Renita Smith was exactly this type of person.

California Dreaming

ellen degeneres on set
Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution
Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution

Renita Smith lives on the East Coast. The Ellen DeGeneres Show shoots on the West Coast. The logistics of that didn’t stop Ellen from inviting Smith and her family to film a segment on the show.

While preparing for the episode, Ellen learned a shocking secret about Smith. What was the secret though and what would Ellen do about it? She came up with a masterful plan that would change the humble mother’s life forever.

Paycheck To Paycheck

renita smith meets ellen degeneres

Unknown to Renita Smith before appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the host found out that the mother was living paycheck to paycheck. When Smith flew to California to make her national debut, she had no idea what surprise the host had in store for her.

As far as Smith knew, Ellen just wanted to talk about her heroic act. That would have been enough for Renita, too. Not only did she get to fly out to California, but she also got to meet one of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities!

Renita Tells Her Story

renita smith tells ellen the story of how she saved her students

The interview started like any other. Ellen called Renita out on stage and asked her about how she got her start. Smith explained she had been with the county since 1999 but hadn’t started driving a bus until 2014.

She continued, saying that nothing seemed out of the ordinary as she made her third stop dropping off students. Then her brake light came on. She planned to go to the next stop before checking into it but ran out of time.

The Kids Kept Their Calm

renita smith says the kids kept calm

Talking to Ellen, it became clear that Renita Smith didn’t view driving a bus as just a job. While telling her story, she continually referred to the students as her “babies.” When they didn’t panic while smoke filled the bus, she must have been one proud mom.

Smith explained to Ellen that the children alerted her of the smoke, and when she pulled over and the bus caught fire, they were already in a single-file line waiting for her to lead them off.

Local Neighbors Kept The Kids Safe

ellen listening to the story of renita smith

With all the kids off the bus and Renita running back onto the vehicle, she told Ellen that local neighbors came out to get the kids to further safety. The scene in the suburbs must have been shocking to see.

For everyone to put their shock aside and work together in the best interests of the kids shows the good that still exists in society. Ellen’s reaction when Smith said she ran back onto the bus showed just how amazing this woman truly was.

“It’s My Job”

renita smith standing with kids

Renita may have become an instant hero from the incident, but for her, it was just another day at work. She never could have expected such a scary scenario to ever happen while she was on the clock, but when it did, she knew it was her responsibility to keep the kids safe.

When parents hugged and thanked her for saving their children, her response was, “it’s my job.” Now, on Ellen’s stage, it became the host’s job to pay Renita Smith back.

A Life-Changing Experience

Renita Smith thank you signs

Renita Smith said the whole experience was life-changing. Her “babies” held a pep rally for her to show their appreciation. She had been honored by the city she lived in as a hero.

And now on top of everything she was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show sharing her life with the world. Before giving Smith the surprise of her life, though, Ellen had one more question, and it’s not what you think it would be!

First Plane Ride Ever

renita smith tells ellen about her first plane ride

As Ellen continued to play out the situation, saving her big surprise for the end of the segment, she asked Renita Smith if she had ever been on a plane. Smith answered that the flying to Los Angeles was the first plane ride of her life.

Smith said she was anxious and nervous, and shared that landing was the scariest part for her. Ellen humorously replied that the take-off is the most fun.

The Big Reveal

ellen giving renita smith 20,000 on live television

Without warning, Ellen told Renita that she knew she lived paycheck to paycheck. She continued to explain that Renita’s story was so inspiring that she had teamed up with Shutterfly to help out.

The next words changed Renita’s life. Ellen revealed her big surprise — she was giving her a check for $20,000. Renita covered her mouth in surprise and the crowd went crazy. It was a truly special moment captured on camera.

Ellen Continued To Praise Renita After The Show

ellen degeneres poising for a picture
Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images
Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Ellen DeGeneres giving Renita Smith $20,000 was one of the most inspiring moments the show has ever aired. The host didn’t do it for publicity, either. On October 4th, 2016, she posted on her Facebook page that “Renita Smith is the reason I love my job.”

DeGeneres has made sure to take time from celebrity interviews to focus on average people doing extraordinary things. Recognizing Renita for her act of heroism is part of the job, just like saving the kids was for Smith.

Always A Hero

renita's kids

Before Renita Smith was handed the biggest check of her life, she told Ellen one more story, a more personal story. Smith is a single mother of two and has a very close relationship with her kids.

She said that when friends started telling her son that she was a hero, he told them that, “she’s always been a hero.” It just took saving a burning bus full of children for the rest of the world to find out.

A Friendly Hello Can Go A Long Way

At nine-years-old, Klynn Scales found her first hero; a local police officer who was assigned to make the rounds in her neighborhood every day. She kept track of what time he would be passing by her house and would sit by the window waiting. When he’d pass by, Klynn would excitedly wave to say hello.

The police officer enjoyed the friendly interaction and would wave back. Every day, the pair would exchange hellos, often brightening otherwise hard days. There’s a reason Klynn’s neighborhood was patrolled daily. She didn’t exactly have an easy childhood.

Klynn Grew Up In A Dangerous Neighborhood

Klynn Scales grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. During the 1990s, when she was a little girl, she would help her mom take care of her two younger brothers. To anyone on the outside, she seemed like just another young girl living a normal life.

Her life, however, was anything but normal. Klynn’s neighborhood was so dangerous, she would look forward to seeing the police officer drive by her house every day. This was the truth of Klynn’s life, and somehow she found a way to embrace it. It was, for this reason, she survived through the most difficult time of her life.

Klynn Had To Raise Her Younger Brothers

The house that Klynn Scales grew up in with her brothers and mother was in a neighborhood ruined by drugs and violence. It was no place for a child to have to grow up, but it was the reality of Klynn’s situation.

Making matters worse, Klynn’s mother was rarely home, having to work ruthless hours to keep a roof over her family’s heads. This meant a lot of Klynn’s life growing up was spent raising her brothers. That’s a lot to ask someone who isn’t even a teenager.

Klynn Played The Role Of Mother

As the oldest sibling in a household with an absentee parent, Klynn took responsibility for her brothers. She knew they needed to eat, so she would walk through her dangerous neighborhood to go to 7-Eleven. Without money to pay for the essentials, young Klynn was forced to steal what she needed to survive.

The troubled life of Klynn and her brothers is heartbreaking to think about. No child should grow up without a childhood, and that’s essentially what happened. Klynn became a mother to her brothers, and her love drove her to do whatever needed to be done for their well being, even at her own health’s decline.

The Police Noticed Klynn

Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Because of the way she was forced to live her life, it wasn’t long until the police noticed Klynn Scales. They learned everything they could about the down-on-their-luck family. One police officer in particular, found himself especially concerned.

This was the officer who ended up driving by Klynn’s house every day, becoming a light in an otherwise dark world. Their daily exchange became expected and highly anticipated. This officer was making a huge difference in Klynn’s life. He had no idea that before he knew it, he’d also be saving it.

The Officer Pledged His Allegiance To Klynn

Not only did the unnamed police officer drive by Klynn’s house every day to make sure she was safe, he told her that he was there to protect her. Fully grown today, Klynn said, “Through all the bad situations, I would just picture him saying that he was here for us.”

This dedication helped Klynn get through even her darkest times, “those words would come to me during the worst times of my childhood life.” It wouldn’t be long until this promise would be fulfilled, proving to Klynn that good still existed in the world.

A Daily Greeting Became A Warning Sign

Little Klynn Scales quickly grew attached to her new friend, “He was the one person that I trusted in my life as a kid.” She loved greeting him every day, and he loved waving back. When she didn’t show up to greet him one day he knew something was wrong.

Their greeting had become routine, and considering the neighborhood Klynn lived in and the responsibilities she had as a “mother,” her missing her daily greeting was a troubling warning sign that something wasn’t right.

The Officer Approached The House

Cautiously, the police officer approached the Scales household and let his instincts take over. What he found when he opened the door was devastating. Little Klynn was laying on the floor, struggling to take a single breath.

The officer rushed Klynn to the emergency room, where all he could do was wait. We know now that Klynn survived, but imagine being this officer with no idea what was happening. We can’t imagine how hard it must have been to helplessly wait outside of the emergency room.

Klynn Was Given A Clean Bill Of Health

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Luckily for the police officer, his quick thinking saved Klynn’s life. At the hospital, it was determined she had suffered a severe episode of malnutrition. If he hadn’t have found her at the time he did, there’s a good chance Klynn would not be alive too.

Shortly after the incident, Klynn moved with her family to Texas. She was never able to say thank you to the man who had saved her life. Knowing it’s never too late, Klynn set out 20-years-later to track down her unnamed hero.

Klynn Turned To The Internet

One of the firsts things Klynn did when she began searching for her hero was to post about her experience online. She didn’t know who might see what she was posting, but she stayed optimistic. Her optimism paid off when she saw a comment by Jennifer Jones.

Jones was a Sergeant with the Kansas City Police and saw Klynn’s story. She told Klynn she thought she knew the officer being described. Was Klynn about to find out the true identity of her childhood hero? Was her search for the truth uncovered this easily?

The Name Behind The Face Revealed


In 2016, an officer named Jeff Colvin opened an email from Jennifer Jones. The email talked about Klynn and the story she wrote about online. She explained there was a little girl who lived down the street from the station Colvin worked at was grown up and looking for her “guardian angel.”

Colvin recognized the story right away. He knew who Klynn was, and knew that the little girl whose life he saved was able to grow up. Years of worry and wondering were flushed away with joy and happiness.

Colvin Was Ecstatic

Just as Klynn Scales had never forgotten about Jeff Colvin, he had never forgotten her either. As he said, “I had actually thought about her and wondered whatever happened with her.” Now he didn’t have to wonder anymore, he knew the truth.

The truth made him ecstatic. He was overwhelmed with happiness to learn that Klynn was alive. He was also incredibly touched she remembered him and had reached out to find him. The only thing left to do was be reunited with Klynn.

A Reunion With Tears

Klynn Scales/Facebook
Klynn Scales/Facebook

After 20 years not knowing what had happened to the other, Colvin and Klynn reunited in person. Both were overwhelmed with emotions. Klynn even broke down in tears upon seeing her childhood hero again. She admitted that she thought it would never happen.

Colvin’s life was changed by the reunion too. He had spent so long on the force dealing with more failures than successes he was losing his passion for the job. Seeing Klynn reignited a fire inside him.

Colvin Found The Love For His Job Again

When Jeff Colvin saw Klynn for the first time in 20 years, something amazing happened. His passion for the job returned. He said, “most times we go through our career not realizing we truly helped anybody out. I wondered if I was even in the right career path.”

Officer Colvin, at that moment, knew without a doubt he had made the right career choice. He then learned that his choices led Klynn to make a unique career choice of her own!

Klynn’s Grown-Up Job

Inspired by her childhood hero, Klynn Scales revealed to Colvin that she applied to be a police recruit in Houston. His heroics had led her down her own path to become a police officer and work to make a positive impact on the lives of those around her.

The surprises didn’t end there. Scales had been dreaming of this reunion for twenty years. Not only was Colvin her childhood hero and career inspiration, he was like a surrogate father to her. With that, she had one more thing to tell him.

Klynn’s Tribute To Colvin

As soon as Klynn learned the name of her hero, she had a bracelet made with the words, “Sgt. Jeff Colvin ‘A True Hero'” engraved on it. She said she got the bracelet to honor her hero and friend, reiterating she sees him as her “guardian angel.”

The story of Klynn and Colvin proves the positive power that police officers can have on communities and individuals. Klynn isn’t the only person who has ever had her life changed by an officer, something she found out when her story went viral.

Klynn’s Story Went Viral

Knowing there are few things as powerful for police stations as community outreach, the Kansas City Missouri Police Department shared the story online. Her story went viral instantly, with many people inspired to share their own amazing stories about police officers.

Not surprisingly, several commentators shared their own stories about Sgt. Colvin and the amazing things he had done for them. As it turns out, Klynn’s life wasn’t the only one he saved after all his years on the streets. He was a true local Kansas City hero.

The Support Was Incredible

In today’s world, police officers aren’t always treated with respect, and the overwhelming support Klynn and Colvin received was incredible. One comment read, “I have great respect for all police, though some deserve it more than others.”

In this case, no one deserves more respect than Jeff Colvin for the time and care he took in protecting Klynn during her time of need. And Klynn has now made it her life’s mission to pay it forward.

Klynn’s Future Is A Reflection Of Her Past

Talking about her plans for the future, Klynn chooses to focus her attention on the past, “I hope one day I can becomes someone’s hero, or make a positive impact like you [Colvin] did mine.” With two kids of her own, Scales plans to start with them.

Then, with her new career, she plans to become an even bigger hero. Colvin’s heroics showed her there was light in the dark. Now she sees it as her job to “pay it forward” and show a new generation of lost souls that there is hope.

The Story Comes Full Circle

The story of Sgt. Jeff Colvin and Klynn Scales is one of sadness turned into happiness. It stands as proof that there’s good in the world, and there are people committed to being good. This is important to remember, especially during tough times.

After graduating from the police academy, as of June 2018, Klynn is officially a police officer. Can you guess who was in the audience cheering her on? Jeff Colvin and his wife, along with Jennifer Jones all showed up to congratulate Klynn on her accomplishment.