TODAY   |  August 22, 2013

Family: Ga. school shooter was mentally ill

Family and friends of 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill, the shooter who opened fire in a Georgia elementary school Tuesday, say he had a history of mental illness and threatened his brother in a Facebook post last December. Teachers at the school acted fast and sent text messages to check in on each other. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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

>> meantime, we are learning more about the troubled past of the alleged gunman who opened fire at an atlanta area elementary school . that building reopening this morning as we hear 911 calls from that frightening incident for the first time. nbc's gabe gutierrez is live. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning. after the police processed this scene, students and parents are hoping to get back to normal. this, as we're hearing more about what the suspect's lawyer calls his long history of mental health issues.

>> he said he's going to start shooting.

>> reporter: throughout a chilling 911 call.

>> i'm in the front office . oh, he just went outside and started shooting. oh, can i run?

>> reporter: school bookkeeper antoinette tuff stayed on.

>> we all go through something in live.

>> reporter: today a clear portrait of michael hill who friends and family say was haunted by illness and nearly died in a fire earlier this year. last summer he threatened to shoot his brother in the head and not think twice about it. that led to felony charges and three years' probation.

>> i don't want anybody to think that he's a monster because he's not.

>> reporter: natasha knots says she and other church members helped take care of him since his mother died three years ago.

>> he always protected those he loved.

>> reporter: which is why they were so shocked on tuesday when police say hill took an ak-47 and close to 500 rounds of ammunition into mcnair discovery learning academy.

>> what i know about him is he had a blank stare on his face.

>> reporter: teacher harold grant kept acting fast.

>> we were texting back and forth.

>> reporter: keep the kids quiet. i'm scared, don't panic. remarkably, no one was hurt, thanks in part to a calm bookkeeper now being called a hero.

>> i ain't never been so scared in all the days of my life.

>> me either, but you did great.

>> oh, jesus.

>> you did great.

>> reporter: police say the suspect got his weapon from an acquaintance so they're still investigating exactly how. hill has waived his first court appearance.