Nightly News   |  August 20, 2013

Shooter enters elementary school with AK-47

Visitors are supposed to be buzzed into Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, leaving many asking how the shooter managed to get into the building.  NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports from Decatur, Ga.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> good evening, i'm lester holt sitting in for brian. we shudder at the thought as to how this broadcast might have read. the word of shots fired inside mcnair discovery learning center in decatur, georgia, was quickly followed by images of s.w.a.t. teams surrounding the school , children being hurried to safety by teachers. a scene we have witnessed far too many times with horrifying outcomes. this time thankfully no one was injured, but as the school year begins around the country, today's scare raises new and difficult questions about what we have really learned from the newtown tragedy. nbc's gabe gutierrez joins us from decatur now with details. gabe?

>> reporter: lester, all 800-plus students have been accounted for tonight, and no injuries have been reported. visitors are supposed to be buzzed into the school , but somehow the suspect got through. a terrifying scene in suburban atlanta. a reported gunman and an elementary school , children being quickly herded to safety, and dozens of officers swarming.

>> why would you run into an elementary school with innocent babies?

>> reporter: around lunchtime, police say a 19-year-old man wearing dark clothes walked into the front office at ronald mcnair discovery learning academy with an ak-47 and told the clerk to call a local tv station. as officers approached, police say he stepped outside the school and fired at least six shots. when police fired back, he dropped to the ground and surrendered. no one was injured.

>> i never thought something like this would happen in my neighborhood, period.

>> reporter: for linda bell, it was three hours of agony. the wait for her 6-year-old son.

>> my husband called and said hey, the baby is -- there's a gunman at his school . i'm, like, what?

>> reporter: hundreds of other panicked parents crowded with her in this walmart parking lot. but many here are also asking how a man allegedly with a weapon got into the building.

>> he entered that property, coming in we suspect behind someone.

>> reporter: eight months after 20 students and 6 teachers were gunned down at sandy hook elementary in connecticut. many schools have tightened security, hired armed guards, even sponsored shooting sessions.

>> how did he get in the school ?

>> let's make sure the kids are safe first.

>> reporter: tonight they are safe. tragedy avoided. there is late word tonight from the police chief that the suspect held employees captive inside the school . investigators are not identifying that suspect or saying what his motive is right now. but detectives do say that a k-9 unit detected possible explosives in his car nearby. lester?