(AJC) --- A tense afternoon ended with tears and cheers as anxious parents were reunited with their children Tuesday afternoon, hours after a man entered a DeKalb County elementary school and fired gunshots. Police believe that same alleged gunman also had possible explosives in a waiting car.
No one was injured and the alleged gunman was quickly taken into custody at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, near Decatur, according to police. The suspect, armed with an AK-47, barricaded himself in the front office before he fired shots at officers, who then returned fire, DeKalb County police Chief Cedric Alexander said Tuesday afternoon.
That suspect, believed to be about 19 years old, apparently slipped into the school behind someone who had entry access to the building, police said. He was taken into custody at the school. Both GBI and FBI agents were dispatched to the area to assist numerous other law enforcement agencies, Alexander said.
Shortly after 6 p.m., officers surrounded a home near the school, but it wasn’t immediately whose home it was. A car belonging to the suspect was also extensively searched, police said. Investigators planned to work through the night to piece together what may have caused the suspect to cause the scare at the school, located in the 2100 block of 2nd Avenue.
But the logistics required to evacuate the school, transport hundreds of students to a safe location, and reunite them safely with family members proved frustrating to some.
In a Walmart parking less than two miles from the school, students were pulled one by one from buses and not allowed to go with a family member until school officials and law enforcement double-checked identification.
The suspect’s name was not released. But investigators said he was in police custody and expected to be booked into the DeKalb County jail, said Lt. Kyle Jones with the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office.
Shortly after 1 p.m., moments before shots were fired, a school employee called the assignment desk at Channel 2 Action News. A man had walked into the school with a gun, and he told the school employee to call the TV station.
“This was his way of sending a message to police, by calling us,” according to Lacey LeCroy, Channel 2 assignment editor, who took the call. “She told me she was the only one in the office with him.”
LeCroy said that according to the school worker, the alleged gunman said he wanted police to back up, and that he wasn’t afraid to die.
The school worker gave LeCroy as much information as possible before there was silence on the line.
“For a long time, there was nothing from her,” LeCroy said.
Then, LeCroy heard gunshots. She stayed on line for about five minutes until she heard the school worker’s voice again.
“They got him. They got him,” the school worker told LeCroy.
Several shots were fired in the front office area before the suspect was taken into custody. Police then went classroom to classroom, knocking on doors and alerting teachers and students there was an intruder.
After investigators discovered the possible explosives inside a vehicle in front of the school, the entire student body was evacuated out the back of the school, Alexander said. Then, investigators were forced to cut a hole in fencing to move the students off campus, Alexander said.
From there, school and MARTA buses were dispatched to pick up all students, and parents were notified to go to the parking lot of a nearby Walmart. But it wasn’t a quick process, frustrating some parents.
“I don’t know what’s going on. I’m mad scared, upset, disappointed,” said Tiyuana Lewis, whose 8-year-old son Tarik, was still at the school. “I don’t know how a gunman could just walk into the school with all that security. It makes no sense.”
Several parents noted the school recently installed a buzzer system.
As buses arrived at the Walmart, students were reunited one by one with family members. Law enforcement leaders joined parents in expressing their relief that no one was injured.
Classes for the elementary students will be held at McNair High School on Wednesday, authorities said. Grief counselors will be at the school to assist students and staff.