The suspect, Michael Brandon Hill, burst into the front office of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy near Atlanta and began barking orders to two staff members inside about 1 p.m. Tuesday, ABC World News reported.
“I’m not playing,” the 20-year-old man allegedly said. “This is for real. This is not a show.”
Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper for the Decatur school, told the news station that she was with one other staff member when Hill walked into the office with an AK-47 and other weapons.
“He had a look on him that he was willing to kill,” Tuff recalled.
The crazed gunman then told Tuff to call a local news station, WSB-TV, because he wanted them to start filming as “police officers die.”
“He was going to end his life and take all the cops and everybody with him,” Tuff said. “He said he didn’t have any reason to live and that he knew he was going to die.”
Once the call was over, Hill — who police suspect slipped past security by following an authorized visitor — started for a schoolyard filled with frightened children.
“I called him back and kept talking to him, to keep him calm and stay inside with me,” the heroic Tuff said. “Because I knew that if he got outside, he was going to start shooting the kids. He had already shot a round off in the office with me.”
Cops suddenly arrived and Hill squeezed off at least six rounds at officers before they returned fire, shattering a glass window in the school office where Tuff and the other staff member were being held captive.
That’s when Tuff tried to reason with the gunman and convince him to surrender. She talked about her divorce after 33 years of marriage, and the “roller coaster” of opening her own business.
“I told him, ‘Okay, we all have situations in our lives,’” she recalled. “It was going to be okay. If I could recover, he could, too.”
When she saw Hill was starting to absorb what she was telling him, she urged him to stop shooting.
“I told him to put the guns down on the table, empty his pockets,” she said.
After Hill piled a cache of weapons and ammunition onto the counter, Tuff told him to lay on the floor.
“He put his hands behind his back and he said, ‘Tell them I’m on the floor,’” said Tuff, who then alerted the officers that Hill had given up.
Hill was cuffed at the scene and later charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. A court date was not immediately scheduled.
Hill’s brother, Timothy Hill, told NBC News that his sibling “was bipolar and suffered from ADD.”
Michael Hill was arrested in nearby Henry County in March for making terroristic threats, a felony, the news station reported Wednesday.
Timothy Hill said the arrest stemmed from his brother threatening to kill him during an argument in December. Court records show that Hill pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to three years’ probation and anger management counseling, NBC reported.
Michael Thurmond, superintendent of DeKalb County schools, lauded the school’s faculty and authorities who stayed calm and got all of the children out of the school unharmed.
“It’s a blessed day, all of our children are safe,” Thurmond told reporters. “This was a highly professional response on the ground by DeKalb County employees assisted by law enforcement.”
The elementary school, like many schools since the massacre of 26 people at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary, has security that requires visitors to be buzzed in through a set of double doors.
“I took (my son) to school this morning and had to be buzzed in,” said Jonessia White, the mother of a kindergartner.
“So, I’m wondering how the guy got into the door.”
Investigators believe Hill walked in the school — where about 870 children are enrolled — by following an authorized visitor.
“I don’t know how this could happen at this school,” said Jackie Zamora, 61, the grandmother of a 6-year-old boy who was inside the school during the tense standoff.
“There’s so much security.”