Fulton Board of Education members discussed the averted tragedy at McNair Discovery Learning Academy in neighboring DeKalb County — two days prior to their meeting at Dunwoody Springs Elementary School in Sandy Springs last week.
“I think all of our hearts miss a beat when we watch something like that unfold on the news,” said Fulton school board President Linda Schultz.
On Aug. 20, a man armed with an AK-47 assault rifle entered the elementary school and barricaded himself in the front office before firing shots at law enforcement officers on the scene. The school’s bookkeeper, Antoinette Tuff, is credited with de-escalating the situation by pacifying the alleged gunman, later identified by authorities as 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill.
Schultz alluded to yet another tragedy — one that hit close to home — in addressing the McNair Academy incident. She has a son who was a student at Virginia Tech when a fellow student opened fire on campus in 2007, killing 33 people before taking his own life.
“So, I do understand how those parents felt trying to understand what was happening to their child that day,” she said. “I want to commend the efforts of the DeKalb School System and the heroic efforts of that school staff throughout that day.
“And, I want to assure parents that we also have safety as a priority within this district and there are many things that we have in place to address this.”
In the wake of the incident at McNair, Timothy Hill, the alleged gunman’s brother, told national media outlets that his brother has a long history of mental issues.
Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa primarily addressed the matter from that angle.
“This is really a broader discussion that we need to continue to have, particularly related to mental health and the investment that our community makes,” said Avossa. “We own that as a community — reporting things and sharing thoughts and concerns about neighbors or [other] people that we know that we’re worried about.”
The superintendent added that exclusively focusing on safety will not be the district’s approach.
“We could build fortresses in our schools and bad people find ways to get into those fortresses,” Avossa said. “So, working together as a community, yes, we need to make our schools safer and invest more — which we’re doing in Fulton County.
“But, at the end of the day this is a community crisis and a community issue that we need to continue to work together to resolve.”