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Lithonia, Georgia - A suspect in an Atlanta-area school shooting took a photograph of himself with an AK47 rifle and packed up nearly 500 rounds of ammunition before the attack - enough to shoot more than half the school's students, police said on Wednesday.
No one was injured in the shooting on Tuesday, but the suspect exchanged gunfire with police who surrounded the elementary school in Decatur, Georgia.
The school's 870 students were evacuated and terrified parents rushed to pick up their children. Some said they instantly thought of the massacre of 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school in December. That attack has dominated arguments over gun control in the US.
A woman whose family once took in the suspect in Tuesday's shooting, Michael Brandon Hill, said he was mentally ill but never violent in the past. Natasha Knotts told The Associated Press that Hill lived with her and her husband for a time when he was in his late teens. She says she served as a mother figure for Hill after he started coming to the small church where she and her husband are pastors.
Police said Hill got the AK47 rifle from an acquaintance, but it's not clear if he stole it or had permission to take it.
Knotts said Hill called her sister on Tuesday afternoon before the shooting and said he had a rifle but didn't say what he was planning to do. She said she believes that Hill acted out as a plea for help.
“This is something that's totally out of his character. This is not him. This is not the Mike that I know,” she said in an interview at her home.
Knotts said she thinks of herself as the 20-year-old Hill's adoptive mother. Hill told her that his birth mother was dead and that he didn't know his father. He also has a brother.
Hill held one or two staff members in the front office captive for a time, the police chief said, making one of them call a local TV station. At some point, he fired into the floor of the school office. As officers swarmed the campus outside, he shot at them at least a half a dozen times with an assault rifle from inside the school and they returned fire, police said. Police came into the school office, and Hill surrendered.
Hill is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Police questioned him for hours at headquarters, but declined on Wednesday to discuss what he said.
A statement from the Dekalb County Public Defender's office said that it was representing Hill and that he has a history of mental illness. One of the office's attorneys, Claudia Saari, said in an email that a preliminary hearing is scheduled for September 5.
Police said Hill's motive was unclear but he'd had contact with the school office before.
One father, Rufus Morrow, said he was at work when he received a phone call with news that shots had been fired at the school his daughter attends.
Morrow said he almost cried as he told his supervisor why he needed to leave.
“Just the mere thought of what happened at that other elementary school happening here, it was just devastating to my soul,” he said, referring to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.
His 10-year-old daughter Dyamond told The Associated Press that a voice came over the intercom saying school was under lockdown and instructed students to get under tables. She said her teacher told the class to sing and pray.
“There were a lot of girls crying, I was feeling scared but I didn't cry. I was just nervous,” she said.
School bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff says she was one of the employees held hostage.
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.
Speaking on Wednesday on ABC's Good Morning America, Tuff said the suspect told her he hadn't taken his medication.
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,” Tuff said. - Sapa-AP