August 21, 2013

Details emerge about Ga. school shooting suspect

A family who took him in was aware 'he had a mental disorder,' but says he never displayed any violent tendencies.

The Associated Press

DECATUR, Ga. — A man who allegedly exchanged gunfire with police at an Atlanta-area school didn't seem to have any friends and rarely talked about his family or past during the months he lived with a couple who serve as pastors at a small church.

Michael Brandon Hill

The Associated Press / Dekalb County Sheriff's Department

But Michael Brandon Hill was quiet and didn't display anger or violent tendencies, said Natasha Knotts, the woman who took him in after he started coming to the small church where her husband is pastor and she is an assistant pastor. No one was injured in Tuesday's standoff, bringing relief to parents who had feared the worst after reports of the gunfire began surfacing.

The DeKalb County Public Defender's office said in a statement that it was representing Hill and that he has "a long history of mental health issues." One of the office's attorneys, Claudia Saari, said in an email that a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 5.

Knotts told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Hill, who is now 20, lived with them for about six months in his late teens. Though there is no blood or legal connection between them, Knotts said she served as a mother-like figure to Hill.

"He was part of our family," Knotts said. Her family was aware that "he had a mental disorder" before he moved in.

Hill told her that his birth mother was dead and that he didn't know his father. He also has brothers.

Police gave more details on Wednesday about the previous day's ordeal and what led up to it. Before going to the school, investigators say that Hill took a photo of himself with an assault rifle and packed up nearly 500 rounds of ammunition — enough to shoot more than half of the school's students.

Police said Hill got the gun from an acquaintance, but it's not clear if he stole it or had permission to take it.

Although no one was injured, the suspect exchanged gunfire with police who surrounded Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, located a few miles east of Atlanta. The school has 870 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

"We have to make a reasonable assumption he was there to do harm to someone," said DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander.

Dramatic television footage showed lines of young students racing out of the building with police and teachers escorting them to safety. They sat outside in a field for a time until school buses came to take them to their parents at a nearby Wal-Mart.

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, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Police declined to discuss what he told them when questioned.

DeKalb County Police Detective Ray Davis said Hill's motive was unclear. Hill had an address listed in court records about three miles from the school in Decatur, but no clear ties to the school.

(Continued on page 2)

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