An eight-hour manhunt that threw a major American city into fear and chaos ended when barking dogs at a suburban condo complex led to the arrest of a US Coast Guard veteran suspected of fatally shooting a woman and wounding four others in a medical waiting room in the bustling heart of Atlanta, authorities said.
The suspect, Deion Duwane Patterson, 24, was armed when he was arrested Wednesday evening, Cobb County Police Chief Stuart VanHoozer said Thursday.
“What his intent was, I can’t say. Was he lying in wait? Would he have done something out of desperation to get away? Who knows,” the suburban police chief said.
Patterson faces one count of murder and four counts of aggravated assault, Fulton County jail records show. He waived his right to a first appearance in court, which had been set for Thursday morning, the jail supervisor said.
Now, as a community mourns the loss of a beloved health worker in a place traditionally considered safe, the suspect’s mother is apologizing to the families of those slain and hurt. She also has a message for anyone asked to help someone with mental illness: “Don’t disregard them.”
“I’m trying to advocate for my son,” Minyone Patterson said, according to CNN affiliate WANF. “Just be careful.”
The shooting spree claimed the life of 38-year-old Amy St. Pierre, who worked at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our hearts are with her family, friends, and colleagues as they remember her and grieve this tragic loss,” CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes said.
The attack marked one of 192 mass shootings this year in the United States with four or more people shot, excluding a gunman, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“This kind of thing is happening every day. Some day it will touch you in some way,” said Neal Cohen, a longtime friend of the slain victim. “Tragically, today it directly touched my life. And I am still attempting to process the loss of my friend Amy.”
The four shooting victims who survived remained hospitalized at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta’s only Level 1 trauma center.
At least two were in critical condition Thursday, said Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer of Grady Health System. He said two patients needed to return to the operating room.
Jansen said he was able to speak with two of the patients, who are “very grateful for the support and care they’ve received.”
But “they have been traumatized,” the doctor said. “They realize that this is a horrific event. And the fact that they were in a health care facility just makes it worse.”
Deion Patterson had sought treatment around noon Wednesday at the Northside Medical Midtown facility because he was dissatisfied with care he was getting from the Department of Veterans Affairs, his mother told investigators, according to a high-level source with the Atlanta Police Department.
But when doctors wouldn’t give him the anti-anxiety drug Ativan, Patterson got angry, his mother told CNN affiliate WSB. The suspect pulled a handgun and started firing, the Atlanta police source told CNN.
Officers were called to the medical facility at 12:08 p.m. ET, Atlanta Police Department Chief Darin Schierbaum said.
Soon, an official shelter-in-place order beeped across the cell phone network, and an apartment building a block away went on lockdown.
From there, resident Annie Eaveson could see “medical professionals huddled up in offices” at the medical building on West Peachtree Street.
“I saw two people taken out on stretchers” she told CNN. “Waves of armored officers went inside in shifts almost.”
But the gunman was nowhere to be found. Patterson had fled the building on foot and ran to a nearby gas station, said Charles Hampton, Atlanta police’s deputy chief of criminal investigations.
There, a “camera network system” caught footage of the suspect stealing a pickup truck that had been left running and unattended, Hampton said. The truck’s tag was then submitted to a license plate reader system, he said.
Around 12:30 p.m., license plate readers spotted the truck in neighboring Cobb County, about 15 miles from the scene of the attack, Hampton said.
Cobb County officials were notified right away, and officers rushed to scour the area for the vehicle, police said.
With schools and businesses on lockdown for miles around, police relied on camera technology systems and information from Patterson’s family to blanket the area.
As the search stretched into the evening, Cobb County law enforcement got a wave of calls reporting possible sighting of the suspect – creating a “chaotic scene” as officers responded to several false alarms, VanHoozer said.
“These are massively complex investigations, and information comes in so quickly,” the chief said Wednesday night. “It is so confusing and so contradicting that we find that we are often trying to go three or four different places very quickly – each seeming to be the suspect.”
When Christy Colwell heard dogs barking in the Waterford Place complex where she lives, she worried the suspect could be hiding in the pool area, which includes a gazebo, she said.
She informed police officer already there responding to a noise call.
“He just started running – the police officer – and said, ‘Get on the grass! Get on the grass!’” resident Debra Sansavieri said. “Suddenly about 30 police cars came flying down.”
A police crime center operator also alerted officers to a 911 call likely about the suspect, the chief said.
“We prioritized that call on the radio,” he said, adding both undercover and uniformed officers were sent to the scene.
“I believe … that an undercover officer was the one that originally saw and confronted this individual and was able to then have backup from uniformed officers that came in and took him into custody without incident,” VanHoozer said.
VanHoozer credited the successful capture in part to recent advances in police tracking technology.
“The combination of the people and the technology, to me, definitely saved lives,” VanHoozer said Thursday. “When the kids got on the school bus this morning, there was a totally different feeling than there would have been had we not captured this individual last night.”
The suspect served with the Coast Guard from 2018 until his discharge in January, the military branch said. CNN has reached out to the VA for comment.
Patterson was “always a protector. No one that would hurt anybody,” his mother Minyone Patterson said, according to WANF. “And even in his time of need, he was still trying to help others. That’s just the person he’s always been.”
But the young man also struggled, she said in her apology after the mass shooting.
“First and foremost, I want to give my sincere, sincere apology to the families that were injured and killed,” Minyone Patterson said, according to WANF. “This mental illness is real, and when we say it’s real, from the medical standpoint, it is real.”
“And when someone is saying they need help, or you see that they are acting out of sorts, they need help,” she said. “Help them, just don’t disregard them. They need help.”
The rush of shooting victims who arrived at Grady Memorial Hospital is not uncommon, the chief medical officer said.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, seeing shooting victims is almost a daily occurrence here. And we have multiple shooting victims come in every day. But when they come in like this – particularly because it happened in a health care setting – it resonates more,” Jansen said.
“The impact of this on the staff is something you can’t imagine. … and it creates angst,” he said. “So we’ve provided support as best we can. We’ve spoken with the staff, and we have support staff to help them through this.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens condemned “horrible act of gun violence.”
“Equally horrifying is that we know that this is not unique in our country,” the Democrat said.
“We know it does not have to be this way. Other nations have challenges with mental health, but they don’t have this level of gun violence that we do in America. It’s the guns,” the mayor said.
“While we respect the rights conveyed by the 2nd Amendment, we also need more actions to protect the rights of our citizens to go about their lives – to go to a doctor’s office, a supermarket, a gas station, their school – without the threat of being gunned down,” Dickens said.