DECATUR, Ga. — A man with an assault rifle and other weapons exchanged gunfire with officers Tuesday at an Atlanta-area elementary school before surrendering, a police chief said, with dramatic overhead television footage capturing the young students racing out of the building, being escorted by teachers and police to safety. No one was injured.
Just a week into the new school year, more than 800 students in pre-kindergarten to fifth grade were evacuated from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, a few miles east of Atlanta. They sat outside along a fence in a field for a time until school buses came to take them to their waiting parents and other relatives at a nearby Walmart.
When the first bus arrived about three hours after the shooting, cheers erupted in the store parking lot from relieved relatives.
The suspect, identified later as 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill, fired at least a half-dozen shots from the rifle from inside McNair at officers who were swarming the campus outside, the chief said.
Officers returned fire when the man was alone and they had a clear shot, DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander said. Hill surrendered shortly after and several weapons were found, Alexander said. Police had no motive.
Though the school has a system where visitors must be buzzed in by staff, the gunman may have slipped inside behind someone authorized to be there, Alexander said. The suspect, who had no clear ties to the school, never got past the front office, where he held one or two employees captive for a time, the chief said. Hill is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
A woman in the office called WSB-TV to say the gunman asked her to contact the Atlanta station and police. WSB said during the call, shots were heard in the background. Assignment editor Lacey Lecroy said she spoke with the woman who said she was alone with the man and his gun was visible.
School clerk Antoinette Tuff in an interview on ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer” said she worked to convince the gunman to put down his weapons and ammunition.
DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond praised faculty and authorities who got the young students to safety. All teachers and students made it out of the school unharmed.