DECATUR, Ga. — A woman who took in the suspect in an Atlanta-area school shooting said Wednesday that he was mentally ill but never violent in the past.
Natasha Knotts told The Associated Press that Michael Brandon Hill lived with her and her husband for a time when he was in his late teens. She says they took him in after he started coming to the church where they serve as pastors.
She says Hill called her sister 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. For anyone that knew Mike, this was a total devastation," she said.
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.
There were no injuries in the gunfire Tuesday, but the situation terrified parents who have students at the school.
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. 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, said DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander. Hill then surrendered.
Hill is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Police questioned him for hours at headquarters. There was no information on a possible court date. Alexander said police were unsure of Hill's motive and that Hill, who had an address listed in court records about three miles from the school in Decatur, had no clear ties to the school.
Parents feared the worst for their children.
Rufus Morrow was at work when he got a phone call with news that shots had been fired at the school his daughter attends.
He drove "about 90 mph" to Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy where 800 or so students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade had been evacuated Tuesday in an Atlanta suburb. The police chief says Hill, armed with an assault rifle and other weapons, was able to slip into the school where visitors must be buzzed in by staff.
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 massacre in Connecticut in December that left 26 people dead, 20 of them children.
"I was terrified," said Romaine Hudson as she held the hands of her 6-year-old and 8-year-old daughters, both of whom are students at the school. "The only thing I could think of when I first heard of this situation was Sandy Hook."
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.
"He told me he was sorry for what he was doing. He was willing to die," Tuff told ABC.
Speaking Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Tuff said the suspect told her he hadn't taken his medication.