Elementary students whose DeKalb County school was targeted by a gunman Tuesday resumed class at a nearby high school Wednesday morning.
Buses and parents began dropping off students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy to nearby McNair High School to attend classes after the harrowing incident at their school Tuesday, a day that began as usual, but ended anything but normal.
A man armed with an AK-47 walked into the elementary school and barricaded himself in the front office before he fired shots at officers, who then returned fire, police said. The alleged gunman, identified Tuesday night as 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill, was quickly taken into custody at the academy, near Decatur.
Hill’s brother told ABC News Tuesday night that he “had a feeling he was going to, eventually one day, do something stupid, but not this magnitude.”
“I couldn’t tell you what his mindset was when he went up there,” Timothy Hill said. “I honestly can tell you he’s got a long history of medical disorders, including bi-polar.” Timothy Hill told ABC News that his brother’s medicine cabinet looked like a pharmacy, and that his brother had gotten into trouble early on, first stealing from schools and then breaking into churches. Hill was charged with making terroristic threats last December after his brother told Henry County police that Michael Hill had threatened him on Facebook. According to a Henry County family violence incident report released Wednesday, Timothy Hill called police on Dec. 30, 2012, to report that Michael Hill “stated on Facebook that he would shoot him in the head and not think twice about it.” The report stated further that Timothy Hill “advised he is in fear for his life and wants to press charges on his brother, Michael.” In the report, the investigating officer said he was told by Timothy Hill that his brother “has mental issues and is under a doctor’s care.” Michael Hill turned himself in on the charges at Henry County police headquarters in McDonough on March 13.
School bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff faced down Hill during the ordeal at the school.
“I feel really blessed this morning,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday morning, after interviews with Good Morning America that occurred at the Channel 2 Action News newsroom.
She recounted how the incident unfolded. Tuff found herself alone with Hill, who had her to call one of the news stations. She called Channel 2.
“I just started praying for him. I just started talking to him and allowing him to know some of my stories and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be OK. And then let him know that he could just give himself up,” Tuff told Channel 2 Tuesday night.
Tuff said she spent almost an hour with Hill throughout the ordeal and asked him to put the weapon down.
“He said he hadn’t taken his medication and that he was going to die anyway and that he was okay with dying and that he was going to kill all the police officers,” Tuff told GMA.
“He wanted me to know that he was not going to hurt me, and I told him that it was going to be okay,” Tuff said.
“He said that no one loved him and I told him that I loved him and that it was going to be okay, that we were going to get out safely,” the bookkeeper said. “And then I told him that he would just go ahead and surrender, since he didn’t hurt anyone, I would stay there with him until they came to get him.”
Tuff headed to work at McNair High, where McNair Academy students will attend during the ongoing investigation.
Ashley Morrow arrived to drop off her daughters Kamyah and Aniyah Reid for school and walked into the building with her mother Mae Morrow.
“Oh, no. We weren’t just dropping them off today,” Ashley Morrow said. The mother and grandmother walked in with the kindergartner and 2nd grader to assess the new situation. “We asked questions and had to check the place out,” Mae Morrow said.
Annisa Harris said her children, 5th grader Jordan and kindergartner Walter, were ready to come back to school today. “They saw on the news last night that they got the bad guy.”
Counselors were on hand to help the 145 or so students who showed up Wednesday. Nearly 800 students are enrolled at McNair Academy.
McNair principal Brian Bolden congratulated his staff and students in an assembly. “You were phenomenal yesterday,” Bolden said. He was uncertain when classes would return to the elementary school building. School officials said they were waiting on the GBI to complete a safety assessment of the building.
Bolden said the change in venue wouldn’t affect learning. “The teachers are gathering a lot of powerful lessons,” he said. “We are going to feed their little bodies, their minds, and their spirits.”
McNair Academy media specialist Harold D. Grant recounted Wednesday morning how he saw the gunman. “He just had a blank stare on his face,” Grant said, noting that he initially thought the man was simply an unauthorized visitor. “Once I saw the gun, I knew he wasn’t just an intruder.” Bolden said he locked the doors to the media center, where several teachers and parents were working, called 9-1-1, then began texting teachers to tell them to stay in their classrooms. “By then, I started hearing sirens,” Grant said. “I heard the gunfire and I heard the glass shattering.” In hindsight, Grant said he realized just how dangerous the situation was. “I didn’t know it was an AK-47,” he said. “I thought it was a hunting rifle. With a person who is mentally unstable, you never know.”
Please check back for updates.
Staff reporters John Spink and Mike Morris contributed to this report.