DECATUR, Ga. — A school clerk here on Tuesday stalled a man dressed in black who had sneaked into an elementary school with an AK-47, giving the police time to arrive before he could make his way into classrooms packed with 800 children.
The man, who the police said was Michael B. Hill, 20, and lived near the school, the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, was in a car that the police said they suspected carried some type of explosives along with other weapons.
He most likely followed someone into the secure school, according to an account by police and school officials.
Once inside, he made his way to the main office, said Cedric Alexander, chief of the DeKalb County Police Department. He demanded that someone call a local television station. Antoinette Tuff, a clerk, made the call.
Never miss a local story.
In an interview on ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer,” Tuff said she worked to convince 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.
Speaking Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Tuff said the suspect told her he hadn’t taken his medication.
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, ‘OK, we all have situations in our lives,’ ”she said. “It was going to be OK. 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.
She told WSB-TV in Atlanta that she tried to keep Hill talking to prevent him from walking into the hallway or through the school building.
“He had a look on him that he was willing to kill — matter of fact he said it. He said that he didn’t have any reason to live and that he knew he was going to die today,” Tuff said, adding that Hill told her he was sure he’d be killed because he’d shot at police officers. “I knew that if he got out that door he was gonna kill everybody,” she said.
Inside the school, which is in a wooded, working-class neighborhood just east of the Atlanta city limits, doors were barricaded and students hid under desks. Some said they thought they were participating in a fire drill. Others heard the shots.
The man’s car was parked in front of the school, and a police dog detected explosives, Alexander said. So officers herded children to the back of the school and cut a hole in a chain-link fence on the property.
Then, in a scene made familiar by school shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., students ran hand in hand from the school, escorted by police officers who led them onto buses.
Parents who had rushed to the school spent more than three hours in the muggy heat behind yellow police tape in a nearby Wal-Mart parking lot, waiting for the buses to deliver their children.
Tempestt Radford, who was waiting for her fourth-grader, said she had heard about the shooting from a friend. “Everything that could be wrong went through my head,” she said. “My main thing was to try to go get my child.”
Like so many others, she immediately thought of the shootings in Newtown, Conn.
“That’s the first thing that popped into my head,” she said. “It’s the only thing that can pop into your head.”
Contributing: Associated Press