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20-year-old charged in Georgia school shooting

  • Sparkle Potts, center, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting with his mother Linda Bell, left, and grandmother Arvis Potts, right, in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Sparkle Potts, center, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting with his mother Linda Bell, left, and grandmother Arvis Potts, right, in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sparkle Potts, left, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting with his grandmother Arvis Potts, right, in a Wal-Mart Inc., parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Sparkle Potts, left, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting with his grandmother Arvis Potts, right, in a Wal-Mart Inc., parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sparkle Potts, left, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Sparkle Potts, left, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Nicole Webb cries as she talks on a phone in the parking lot of a store while waiting for her 9-year-old son, a student at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at the school east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

    Nicole Webb cries as she talks on a phone in the parking lot of a store while waiting for her 9-year-old son, a student at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at the school east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

  • A police officer helps a child off a school bus carrying students after a shooting at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at the school east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

    A police officer helps a child off a school bus carrying students after a shooting at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at the school east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

  • Dekalb County Police SWAT officers run toward Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Dekalb County Police SWAT officers run toward Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Jamairis McWay, 6, left, is reunited with his grandmother Carolyn Logan, right, as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy are picked up by loved ones in a Walmart parking lot after they were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Jamairis McWay, 6, left, is reunited with his grandmother Carolyn Logan, right, as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy are picked up by loved ones in a Walmart parking lot after they were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Andrea Sneiderman enters the courtroom for sentencing Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga. A Dekalb County jury found Sneiderman guilty on several counts of perjury and obstruction in the shooting death of her husband outside a preschool, in Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Adams courtroom Monday, Aug. 19.  The 37-year-old mother of two faced 4 perjury counts, 7 counts of making false statements and 1 count each of hindering the apprehension of a criminal and concealing a material fact in connection with the death of her husband, Rusty. A murder charge was dismissed on July 26. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)  MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT

    Andrea Sneiderman enters the courtroom for sentencing Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga. A Dekalb County jury found Sneiderman guilty on several counts of perjury and obstruction in the shooting death of her husband outside a preschool, in Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Adams courtroom Monday, Aug. 19. The 37-year-old mother of two faced 4 perjury counts, 7 counts of making false statements and 1 count each of hindering the apprehension of a criminal and concealing a material fact in connection with the death of her husband, Rusty. A murder charge was dismissed on July 26. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson) MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT

  •  Andrea Sneiderman  listens as her sentence is handed down by Judge Adams during her sentencing hearing Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga. Adams sentenced Sneiderman to a five-year prison term, and will allow her to get credit for the time she's already served. Sneiderman will spend about four years behind bars for lying to authorities who were investigating the slaying of her husband. A murder charge was dismissed on July 26. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)  MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT

    Andrea Sneiderman listens as her sentence is handed down by Judge Adams during her sentencing hearing Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga. Adams sentenced Sneiderman to a five-year prison term, and will allow her to get credit for the time she's already served. Sneiderman will spend about four years behind bars for lying to authorities who were investigating the slaying of her husband. A murder charge was dismissed on July 26. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson) MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT

  • Dekalb County Police SWAT officers  prepare at  Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.  A suspect was in custody after reports of gunfire at an Atlanta-area elementary school Tuesday, the school chief said, with television footage showing young students running out the school being escorted by teachers and police. Michael Thurmond told The Associated Press he had no reports of injuries and that all students and teachers are accounted for and safe. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bob Andres)

    Dekalb County Police SWAT officers prepare at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. A suspect was in custody after reports of gunfire at an Atlanta-area elementary school Tuesday, the school chief said, with television footage showing young students running out the school being escorted by teachers and police. Michael Thurmond told The Associated Press he had no reports of injuries and that all students and teachers are accounted for and safe. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bob Andres)

  • People wait for word in a Wal-Mart Inc. parking lot after a reported shooting at the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, in Decatur, Ga., Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

    People wait for word in a Wal-Mart Inc. parking lot after a reported shooting at the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, in Decatur, Ga., Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

  • A child peers out the window of a school bus as busses arrive with students after an incident at Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga.  Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

    A child peers out the window of a school bus as busses arrive with students after an incident at Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

  • Police vehicles park near the scene of a school shooting, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.The superintendent of DeKalb County schools says police have a suspect in custody after reports of a gunman at an Atlanta-area elementary school. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Police vehicles park near the scene of a school shooting, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.The superintendent of DeKalb County schools says police have a suspect in custody after reports of a gunman at an Atlanta-area elementary school. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • A Dekalb County Police officer stands guard as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy board school buses to take them to reunite with their parents after they were evacuated after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. All students and teachers are safe and a suspect is in custody after gunfire was heard at the Atlanta-area elementary school today. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    A Dekalb County Police officer stands guard as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy board school buses to take them to reunite with their parents after they were evacuated after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. All students and teachers are safe and a suspect is in custody after gunfire was heard at the Atlanta-area elementary school today. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Dekalb County Police SWAT officers run though the front yard of a home toward Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.  Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Dekalb County Police SWAT officers run though the front yard of a home toward Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Police officers stand at the scene at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.  Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Police officers stand at the scene at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • An administrator collects an identification as loved ones gather to be reunited with students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    An administrator collects an identification as loved ones gather to be reunited with students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Shanique Worthey, right, is embraced by her mother Daphne Morris, while waiting to be reunited with her son five-year-old son Skyler Worthey as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy are picked up by loved ones in a Walmart parking lot after they were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    Shanique Worthey, right, is embraced by her mother Daphne Morris, while waiting to be reunited with her son five-year-old son Skyler Worthey as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy are picked up by loved ones in a Walmart parking lot after they were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Sparkle Potts, center, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting with his mother Linda Bell, left, and grandmother Arvis Potts, right, in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Sparkle Potts, left, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting with his grandmother Arvis Potts, right, in a Wal-Mart Inc., parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Sparkle Potts, left, cries upon seeing her nephew Cameron Bell pull up in a school bus from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy while waiting in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Nicole Webb cries as she talks on a phone in the parking lot of a store while waiting for her 9-year-old son, a student at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at the school east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
  • A police officer helps a child off a school bus carrying students after a shooting at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at the school east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
  • Dekalb County Police SWAT officers run toward Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Jamairis McWay, 6, left, is reunited with his grandmother Carolyn Logan, right, as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy are picked up by loved ones in a Walmart parking lot after they were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Andrea Sneiderman enters the courtroom for sentencing Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga. A Dekalb County jury found Sneiderman guilty on several counts of perjury and obstruction in the shooting death of her husband outside a preschool, in Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Adams courtroom Monday, Aug. 19.  The 37-year-old mother of two faced 4 perjury counts, 7 counts of making false statements and 1 count each of hindering the apprehension of a criminal and concealing a material fact in connection with the death of her husband, Rusty. A murder charge was dismissed on July 26. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)  MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT
  •  Andrea Sneiderman  listens as her sentence is handed down by Judge Adams during her sentencing hearing Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga. Adams sentenced Sneiderman to a five-year prison term, and will allow her to get credit for the time she's already served. Sneiderman will spend about four years behind bars for lying to authorities who were investigating the slaying of her husband. A murder charge was dismissed on July 26. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)  MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT
  • Dekalb County Police SWAT officers  prepare at  Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.  A suspect was in custody after reports of gunfire at an Atlanta-area elementary school Tuesday, the school chief said, with television footage showing young students running out the school being escorted by teachers and police. Michael Thurmond told The Associated Press he had no reports of injuries and that all students and teachers are accounted for and safe. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bob Andres)
  • People wait for word in a Wal-Mart Inc. parking lot after a reported shooting at the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, in Decatur, Ga., Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
  • A child peers out the window of a school bus as busses arrive with students after an incident at Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in Decatur, Ga.  Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
  • Police vehicles park near the scene of a school shooting, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.The superintendent of DeKalb County schools says police have a suspect in custody after reports of a gunman at an Atlanta-area elementary school. Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • A Dekalb County Police officer stands guard as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy board school buses to take them to reunite with their parents after they were evacuated after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. All students and teachers are safe and a suspect is in custody after gunfire was heard at the Atlanta-area elementary school today. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Dekalb County Police SWAT officers run though the front yard of a home toward Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.  Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Police officers stand at the scene at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after reports of a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga.  Superintendent Michael Thurmond says all students at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur east of Atlanta are accounted for and safe Tuesday and that he is not aware of any injuries. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • An administrator collects an identification as loved ones gather to be reunited with students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in a Walmart parking lot after students were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Shanique Worthey, right, is embraced by her mother Daphne Morris, while waiting to be reunited with her son five-year-old son Skyler Worthey as students from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy are picked up by loved ones in a Walmart parking lot after they were evacuated when a gunman entered the school, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A man with an assault rifle and other weapons exchanged gunfire with officers yesterday 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 officers 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, Ga., 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, several of them sobbing.

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 Alexander said at a news conference. Hill surrendered shortly after and several weapons were found, though it wasn’t clear how many, Alexander said. The 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 the 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.

“It didn’t take long to know that this woman was serious,” Lecroy said. “Shots were one of the last things I heard. I was so worried for her.”

School clerk Antoinette Tuff in an interview on ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer said she worked to persuade the gunman to put down his weapons and ammunition.

“He told me he was sorry for what he was doing. He was willing to die,” Tuff told ABC.

She told him her life story, about how her marriage fell apart after 33 years and the “roller coaster” of opening her own business.

“I told him, ‘Okay, we all have situations in our lives,” she said. “It was going to be okay. If I could recover, he could, too.”

Then Tuff said she asked the suspect to put his weapons down, empty his pockets and backpack on the floor.

“I told the police he was giving himself up. I just talked him through it,” she said.

DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond praised faculty and authorities who got the young students to safety, staying calm and following plans in place. All teachers and students made it out of the school unharmed.

“It’s a blessed day, all of our children are safe,” Thurmond said at the news conference. “This was a highly professional response on the ground by DeKalb County employees assisted by law enforcement.”

School volunteer Debra Hayes said she encountered the suspect without knowing it.

She stopped by the office at the end of her shift and saw a man talking to a secretary but she did not see a gun.

“I heard him say, ‘I’m not here to harm any staff or any parents or students.’ He said he wanted to speak to a police officer.”

“By the time I got to 2nd Avenue, I heard gunshots,” she said.

Complicating the rescue, bomb-sniffing dogs alerted officers to something in the suspect’s trunk and investigators believe the man may have been carrying explosives, Alexander said. Officials cut a hole in a fence to make sure students running from the building could get even farther away to a nearby street, he said. SWAT teams then went from classroom to classroom to make sure people were out.

The police had strung yellow tape up blocking intersections near the school while children waited to be taken to Walmart where hundreds of people were anticipating their arrival. The crowd waved from behind yellow police tape as buses packed with children started pulling up along the road at the store. The smiling children waved back.

Regional superintendent Rachel Zeigler used a megaphone to say children were organized on the buses by grade level and that each bus would also be carrying an administrator, a teacher and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation officer. Relatives had to show ID, sign each child out and have their photo taken.

The school has about 870 children enrolled. The academy is named after McNair, an astronaut who died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986, according to the school’s website.

Jonessia White, the mother of a kindergartner, said the school’s doors are normally locked.

“I took (my son) to school this morning and had to be buzzed in,” she said. “So I’m wondering how the guy got in the door.”

Jackie Zamora, 61, of Decatur, was at the Walmart waiting and said her 6-year-old grandson was inside the school when the shooting was reported and she panicked for more than an hour because she hadn’t heard whether or not anyone had been injured.

Since shootings in classrooms all over the country, the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary being the freshest in people’s minds, schools have implemented security from metal detectors to armed guards. McNair had its own safety precautions.

White said the school has a set of double doors where visitors must be buzzed in and show identification to a camera to be allowed in.

“I don’t know how this could happen at this school,” Zamora said. “There’s so much security.”

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