Gunfire in Georgia elementary school: Children and staff evacuated, suspect in custody

Gunfire in Georgia elementary school: Children and staff evacuated, suspect in custody
Multiple shots were fired at an elementary school in DeKalb County, Georgia, prompting the evacuation of children and staff. A sole suspect was taken into custody.

While no injuries have been reported, a 20-year-old white male dressed in black and armed with an AK-47 entered Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy outside of Atlanta and fired several dozen shots from inside the building. The suspect was identified Tuesday evening by WSBTV as Michael Brandon Hill, 20.

Screenshot from AP video

SWAT team members and police officers arrived at the scene of the incident shortly after the first reports of a shooting at the school, which houses approximately 600 students from pre-school through fifth grade.

The adult suspect reportedly walked onto school property around 1:00 PM EST, fired shots, and demanded school administrators call the police and the media, specifically Atlanta’s Channel 2, and demand they come to the school. 

Upon seeing police, the gunman started shooting and was met with return fire. After a short exchange with officers he surrendered and apprehended by police in the school’s main office. 

Upon entering the building we stacked up…behind a tactical shield and made our way down the hallway,” one of the arresting officers told WSBTV. “When we took him into custody he said ‘I am sorry, I am off my meds.’ He seemed like he was tired.” 

DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander told reporters in an afternoon press conference that authorities suspect he entered “behind someone who was authorized to enter the school.” 

What we knew right away was that he had held one or two staff members captive inside the main office,” he said. “We have absolutely no idea why he did this. As far as we know he didn’t get any further than the front office.” 

Witnesses said Hill told them he had no desire to hurt anyone, but to speak with police. 

Lacey LeCroy, of Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News, said she had a phone conversation with an school employee who worked in the office. She said gunshots were clearly audible over the phone.  

It didn’t take long to know that the woman was serious,” she said. He wanted the channel “to start filming as police die,” LeCroy said. The suspect also wanted police officers “to back up,” the school employee told the LeCroy. 

After Hill was arrested and the school safely evacuated, law enforcement conducted a controlled explosion as a precaution. They then sought to determine what, if anything, the suspect had in his trunk.  

A K-9 officer indicated that an explosive could have been inside the vehicle.  Alexander described it as “an unusual situation where we had to get the kids away from any possible explosives.” 

A bomb squad and SWAT team, reportedly acting on a search warrant, surrounded outside the suspect’s home Tuesday night. They have restricted media access to the area as a precautionary measure.

Following the reports, TV footage from local outlets showed that children had been safely evacuated from the building and were sitting outside in a field. Soon after that, the children were loaded onto buses. 

The school has informed parents to collect their children outside of WalMart, located at 2427 Gresham Road. As a safety precaution, police recorded the parents’ driver’s license identification number and which child they were taking home. 

We're in the process of reuniting the children with their parents,” said Mekka Parish, spokeswoman for the DeKalb County Police Department told the Associated Press. “We're just trying to calm the nerves of parents."

The scene outside the Wal-Mart as children were reunited with their families was visibly celebratory. Parents, many of whom crying tears of joy, told reporters they were relieved and trusted school officials to protect students from harm. 

They told him it was a fire drill, which I’m happy about because he doesn’t really understand what has been going on. Otherwise he would be afraid to go to school,” one mother told WSBTV in Atlanta. “I’m just going to have to going to explain it to him and tell him what happened.” 

Alexander maintained that the investigation was ongoing Tuesday, and police have not yet identified whether Hill "had any ties to the school whatsoever." He went on to praise the schools reaction, which prevented what could have been a much uglier situation. Students will attend McNair High School on Wednesday, but many parents have said their children will not be attending until the end of the week. 

The faculty and teaching staff did an excellent job of  getting these kids to the back of the school they remained calm and kept these kids calm," he said. "They did an absolutely outstanding job.” 

Tuesday’s near tragedy was is the latest in a decade-long string of scary incidents at US schools. The deadliest came last December at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut when a 20-year-old gunman – armed with a rifle and two handguns – shot 20 children and six teachers before killing himself.   

Screenshot from AP video