By Jeff Amy and Kate Brumback
Police on Wednesday evening arrested a man accused of opening fire inside the waiting room of an Atlanta medical practice, killing one woman and wounding four others earlier in the day.
Authorities had swarmed the city’s bustling midtown neighborhood shortly after noon in search of the suspect, who fled after the shooting. Police said in a statement that the gunman, who they identified as 24-year-old Deion Patterson, was captured in Cobb County, just northwest of Atlanta.
Authorities said Patterson shot five women on the 11th floor of a Northside Medical building, which is in a commercial area filled with office towers and high-rise apartments. News of the shooting prompted workers and lunchgoers to shelter in place for hours.
This photo released by the Atlanta Police Department on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, shows Deion Patterson. Atlanta police said a suspected shooter in downtown Atlanta is believed to be Patterson and that he was considered armed and dangerous. (Atlanta Police Department via AP)
Patterson had an appointment at the medical practice and shortly after arriving shot the first victim, law enforcement officials said at a news conference Wednesday night. The shooting lasted approximately two minutes before Patterson left the building and went to a Shell gas station and took a pickup truck that had been left running and unattended, authorities said.
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said a 39-year-old woman was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting. The Fulton County medical examiner’s office identified her as Amy St. Pierre.
The four wounded victims were also women, aged 25, 39, 56 and 71. Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said they remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday night. Their names were not immediately released.
Hampton declined to discuss any details of the investigation or possible motive, saying, “Why he did what he did, all of that is still under investigation.”
Patterson's mother, Minyone Patterson, who police said had accompanied her son to the medical office, told The Associated Press by phone that her son, a former Coast Guardsman, had “some mental instability going on” from medication he received from the Veterans Affairs health system that he began taking on Friday.
She said her son had wanted Ativan to deal with anxiety and depression but that the VA wouldn't give it to him because they said it would be "too addicting." She's a nurse and said she told them he would only have taken the proper dosage “because he listened to me in every way.”
“Those families, those families,” she said, starting to sob. “They’re hurting because they wouldn’t give my son his damn Ativan. Those families lost their loved ones because he had a mental break because they wouldn’t listen to me.”
She ended the call without saying what medication her son had been taking.
“We are horrified and saddened to hear of the active shooter situation in Atlanta today,” Veterans Affairs Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said in an emailed statement. “Due to patient privacy, we cannot discuss the Veteran’s personal information without written consent.”
In a statement, the U.S. Coast Guard said Patterson had joined the service in 2018 and was discharged from active duty in January. He was an electrician’s mate second class at the time.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens applauded the fact that Patterson was arrested and taken into custody alive so he can be prosecuted.
“Right now, we’ve had a successful end to a traumatic day,” Dickens said, while also advocating for tougher gun laws and stressing the importance of police training.
“I hope the city, the region, rests easy that he is in custody, but I also hope that we will stay vigilant to continue to look at a future where individuals who shouldn’t have a gun in possession won’t have one, and also that individuals are brought to justice, and also that we deal with these things that are mental health or easy access to guns," Dickens said.
Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement that he was “heartbroken” by the shooting and praying for victims, going on to praise law enforcement, saying officers “demonstrated yet again their professionalism, courage and unwavering dedication.”
Cobb County Police Chief Stuart VanHoozer said technology played a huge role in finding the suspected shooter, saying even as recently as four years ago they may not have been able to find him so quickly. He said the department had acquired some technology tools and those along with the Department of Transportation’s cameras and community members calling with information, led to the arrest.
“Those tools are really what got us the clues that we we needed to make this successful — and the people getting those clues,” VanHoozer said.
The pickup truck was found in a parking garage near the Battery, a mixed-use development that is next to the stadium where the Atlanta Braves play. Video aired by WSB-TV showed Patterson was arrested near a tennis court and swimming pool in a wooded condominium complex about a half-mile (less than a kilometer) to the north.
Around the time of the shooting, Cassidy Hale, a medical device representative, said she was driving to the facility to check on a machine in the building’s 12th floor outpatient surgery center.
Hale saw firetrucks but didn’t realize anything was wrong until after she parked and found the elevator wasn’t working. Hale said she called the operating room manager, who told her there was an active shooter and she should go back to her car.
Hale said police kept her from leaving the parking garage and later checked each car and escorted her out to be interviewed.
She gathered with other employees and patients in a building across the street, where she said “everyone was really in shock” and “trying to process what was going on.”
The shooting comes as cities around the U.S. have been wracked by gun violence and mass shootings in 2023.
Shortly after the shooting, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia took to the Senate floor to decry gun violence and to urge his colleagues to advance gun reform.
“There have been so many mass shootings ... that, tragically, we act as if this is routine,” the Democrat said during a 12-minute speech. “We behave as if this is normal. It is not normal.”
The Atlanta pastor added: “I shudder to say it, but the truth is, in a real sense, it’s only a matter of time that this kind of tragedy comes knocking on your door.”
Georgia’s other U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, also a Democrat, echoed his colleague in a statement: “The level of gun violence in America today is unconscionable and unacceptable, and policymakers at all levels have a responsibility to ensure public safety and implement long-overdue reforms.”
Associated Press writers Jeff Martin in Woodstock, Georgia, and Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report.
This article has been updated to include the capture of the shooting suspect and other details.