DECATUR, Ga. — A suspect was in custody after gunfire erupted at an Atlanta-area elementary school where dramatic television footage showed young students racing out of the building, being escorted by teachers and police. No one was injured and all students and teachers were accounted for and safe, authorities said.
Students were evacuated from Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, a few miles east of Atlanta, and sat outside in a field for time until school buses came to take them to their waiting parents and other relatives at a nearby Wal-Mart. When the first bus arrived a couple hours later, cheers erupted in the store parking lot.
According to WSB-TV’s website, a woman in the school office called to say a gunman asked her to contact the Atlanta station and police. WSB said during the call, shots were heard in the background.
Numerous police were at the school and SWAT was there for a time. The suspect is a man in his mid-20s and didn’t have an obvious connection to the school, DeKalb County schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond told The Associated Press. He and police said all students and teachers came out safely.
WSB-TV assignment editor Lacey Lecroy said she spoke with the woman in the school’s front office who told the station she was alone with the suspect and the man’s 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.”
Jonessia White, the mother of a kindergartner at the school, told AP she talked to her son’s teacher shortly after most students were evacuated. White said the teacher told her they were still inside the building shortly after 2 p.m.
“When I hear he’s safely out of the building, I’ll be OK,” White said, adding that she learned of the shooting when a friend called to say helicopters were hovering over the school.
DeKalb County Police Department spokeswoman Mekka Parish said, “We’re just trying to calm the nerves of parents.”
Police had strung yellow tape up blocking intersections near the school while children waited to be taken to Wal-Mart where hundreds of people were waiting. The crowd waved from behind yellow police tape as buses packed with children drove along the road in front of them.
Regional superintendent Rachel Zeigler used a megaphone to say children would be loaded onto buses by grade level and that each bus would also be carrying an administrator, a teacher and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation officer. School officials urged families to send one representative to retrieve children to avoid a bottleneck. Officials said relatives would be required to 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.
White 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.” She said before what happened Tuesday, she thought of the school as safe and was satisfied with its procedures.
Jackie Zamora, 61, of Decatur, was at the Wal-Mart 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.
She said the school has a set of double doors where visitors must be buzzed in before showing a form of 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.”