Nightly News | August 21, 2013
>>> begins now. good evening. i'm lester holt in for brian. what we have learned in the 24 hours or so after a heavily armed man barged into an atlanta area school is beyond frightening and comes as a jarring reminder of what happened just eight months ago in newtown, connecticut, and what could have happened yesterday. police in georgia say the alleged gunman had nearly 500 bullets and was apparently prepared for a violent showdown with police when he entered the mcnair discovery learning academy. also new tonight details of his criminal record and what his lawyer said today about his mental state . our national correspondent kate snow is in dekalb county , georgia weath georgia , with the latest for us. kate?
>> reporter: good morning, lester . a lot of security here, a double front door, you have to be buzzed in, but the gunman was able to closely follow someone in the school. 800 children were inside the classrooms and yet not one was hurt.
>> a shoot-out.
>> reporter: a self-portrait of michael hill , who took an ak-47 assault rifle and close to 500 rounds of ammunition into an elementary school .
>> do not let anybody in the building including no police.
>> reporter: and today another portrait emerged of the fast-speaking school book keeper in the front office who dialed 911. he said he don't care, he have nothing to live for.
>> reporter: shr relayed messages from the shooter to the operator.
>> he went inside and started shooting.
>> reporter: three sheriff's investigators who specialize in high-risk situations were just feet away from the front door.
>> i can handle anything in my profession, but i can't handle something happening to an innocent child. just, you know, you dig deep.
>> reporter: as teachers texted each towe stay calm, tuft calmly talked to the gunman, sharing personal stories, convincing him to surrender. that's a good thing that you just giving up and don't worry about it. we all go through something in life.
>> i peeked around the corner. i saw him on the floor.
>> it's him.
>> we got him. we got him.
>> reporter: today hill's public defender said the 20-year-old suspect has a long history of mental health issues. last december, michael hill threatened on facebook to shoot his brother in the head and not think twice about it. that led to felony charges and a sentence of three years' probation. how does someone on probation get a hold of an ak-47 and walk into a school?
>> currently going over that.
>> reporter: police say hill obtained the weapon from the home of an acquaintance. teachers today said practicing intruder alert drills every few months have really helped.
>> i'm with fifth grade so they've been practicing it for years. so they knew exactly what to do, and they just went into that mode.
>> reporter: students were sent to the local high school today with counselors on hand.
>> we want you to share with us your fears and your thoughts.
>> reporter: the entire community so thankful yesterday ended the way it did.
>> all the kids went home to their parents last night, just the happiest ending that you could ask for.
>> reporter: the school made some changes after newtown and the principal tells me that those changes included what miss tuft and other people did. it all went just as they had rehearsed. they're already getting calls from other school districts around the country, lester , asking them for some solutions, asking for policies that work. lester ?