At approximately 1 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Aug. 20, shots were fired at McNair Discovery Learning Academy in DeKalb County. The gunman is in police custody and no teachers or students were injured during the entire ordeal. Parents are now reunited with their children and are reacting to the terrifying incident.
Milton Johnson, board chairman of DeKalb County Schools, confirmed that around 1 p.m., the suspect entered the elementary school. Dressed in all black and armed with an AK47 assault weapon and other guns, the shooter entered the school behind another parent, who was “buzzed” in. The suspect made his way to the office area and forced an employee to call a local Atlanta television station. He also wanted to make contact with the local police department. The shooter shot several times, aiming at officers outside the school. He eventually surrendered peacefully.
Around 1:15 p.m., children were filmed running from the back of the school to a tree line behind an open field. Teachers were scurrying to help the students and a police officer was seen comforting several. Around 1:45, WSB TV confirmed that the shooter was in custody. Officers are searching the school to clear it from any danger, including potential explosives in the shooter’s vehicle. Police improvised to get the students further away from the school by cutting a whole in a fence and leading them down an embankment to safety. SWAT teams continued to surround the school.
Teachers and students regularly undergo intruder and active shooter drills, however because school just started, it’s doubtful if McNair conducted one this school year. During an intruder drill, students gather in an interior room and teachers lock the classroom doors and block out views from windows. The students are directed to remain absolutely silent.
Many parents with students at McNair said that they heard of the school emergency on TV. Some rushed to the school immediately after hearing the news. School buses were sent to the school and all students (including walkers and car riders) were transported to a Walmart located near the intersection of I-20 and Gresham Rd, one mile south of McNair Discovery Learning Academy. Parents converged in the parking lot and eagerly awaited joyful reunions with their children. The students were loaded on the buses by grade level (starting with Pre-K and K) and parents had to present a photo ID when the buses pulled in.
Once reunited, the extremely relieved parents spoke to CBS-46 about their reactions to a long and emotionally stressful day. Here is what a few said.
- “It was definitely stressful.”
- “I’m so relieved that he’s off that bus and safe.”
- “I’m blessed to have her back with me.”
- “I’m so proud of DeKalb County for the way they handled everything.”
One student related his scary ordeal and said that after the shots, his teacher went into the hall to check things out. She quickly ran back into the classroom. Soon after, a police officer knocked loudly on the classroom door. “It was scary,” the student said. “I thought it was the bad guy.”
This afternoon, the DeKalb Police Department reported that the shooting suspect gave a statement and said, “I am sorry. I am off my meds.”
Thankfully, all of the children, teachers and staff were not injured, but surely shaken up. It could have ended up as a tragedy, but due to the quick actions of the police department and GBI officers, coupled with the bravery of a school secretary, it's day of thanks instead of tears.
The DeKalb County School Board announced that McNair Learning Academy classes would be held at McNair High School on Wednesday. The 108,849 square-foot Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an advanced concept elementary school for grades Pre-K-5, opened its doors in Decatur, Ga. for the first time on August 11, 2008.
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, most school systems in Atlanta tightened their security procedures. For example, students are no longer allowed to walk outside to get to their classes. Plus, all visitors must either be “buzzed” in or sign-in after showing identification. The procedures will surely be reviewed once again after Tuesday’s potential tragedy.
Robert Avossa, superintendent of Fulton County Schools, already sent out a recorded message to all parents emphasizing the fact that teachers go through continuous safety training. “Situations like these make us all concerned about school safety,” he said on the recorded message. “We will continue to keep your school the safest place to be,” he added.
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