It was a Wednesday like so many others. Office workers on their lunch breaks crowded into Midtown Atlanta restaurants. On the 11th floor of a medical building on West Peachtree Street, patients sat in a waiting room before seeing their doctors.
A 24-year-old man arrived late for his appointment at Laureate Medical Group. Told he would have to come back another time, he became enraged, witnesses said. He drew a handgun from his satchel and opened fire.
The man, later identified by police as Deion Patterson, is accused of killing one woman and wounding four others, setting off a chaotic day across metro Atlanta following the nation’s latest mass shooting.
Patterson fled in a stolen vehicle as police converged on Northside Hospital Medical Midtown, a 12-story building filled with doctors’ offices and medical clinics. Authorities immediately launched a manhunt that ended eight hours later with Patterson’s arrest on the grounds of an apartment complex in suburban Cobb County.
The police did not immediately identify the shooting victims, all of them women. But family members identified the woman who died as 38-year-old Amy St. Pierre, an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a statement, the CDC said it was mourning “the unexpected loss of a colleague killed today in the Midtown Atlanta shooting. Our hearts are with her family, friends and colleagues as they remember her and grieve this tragic.”
St. Pierre died at the scene, the police said. Four other women — ages 71, 56, 39 and 25 — were “fighting for their lives” at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said.
Dr. Robert Jansen, Grady’s chief medical officer, said three of the victims remained in critical condition late Wednesday.
Details of the shooting are sketchy. Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said officers were called at 12:08 p.m. to the medical building’s 11th floor, home of Laureate Medical Group. Surveillance cameras captured images of the shooter as he left the building. The police soon released four pictures of the man. He wore a gray hoodie, dark pants and a blue medical mask. He carried a brown satchel, held close to his chest.
The gunman walked to a nearby gas station, where he “commandeered” a white Toyota pickup truck that had been left unattended with the engine running, Deputy Chief Charles Hampton said.
The shooter left behind a scene of carnage.
A medical assistant who works on the building’s 10th floor, Curtis Allen, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he witnessed two of the shootings while watching a feed from a security camera in another part of the building. Allen had been headed out for lunch about 12:15 p.m. when he encountered a throng of people, including police officers.
On the video, Allen said, he saw the assailant shoot one woman as she ran away. She dropped to the floor.
A second woman, Allen said, was shot as she stepped out of an elevator.
Police evacuated Allen and others from the building to a nearby office, where Laureate employees had taken shelter. Allen said they told him the shooter was a patient who had come in with his mother for an appointment. He began shooting after arriving late and learning his appointment had been canceled, Allen said the employees told him.
Watching the shootings, Allen said, stirred “just all the emotions you could think of. All of these people are elevator buddies. I’ve seen them come and go.”
Inside the Laureate offices, Dr. Sakib Qureshi immediately recognized the sounds he heard were gunfire. But the nurse supervisor who was assisting him with a biopsy wanted to be sure. She opened a locked hallway door, peaked outside and quickly pulled it shut.
“Active shooter,” the nurse said, running for cover.
Qureshi, a neurologist, bandaged his patient and barricaded the door with an exam bed.
As they lay on the floor, Qureshi told the Journal-Constitution, he and his patient heard another round of gunfire, followed by screams and cries from the waiting room.
“And then there was just quiet,” Qureshi said. “It was horrible … to not go out there and help.”
Waiting for the police, he wrote text messages with his final goodbyes.
“I told them I love them,” he said. “I told them to tell everyone I love that I love them. And I said I believe in God.”
As the shooting occurred and the manhunt began, thousands of residents, workers, students and others in Midtown were forced to shelter in place for hours.
State Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Atlanta, was meeting a friend for lunch next door to the building where the shootings happened when he heard other diners talking. He remained there with 20 to 30 other customers and employees until late afternoon.
“I am looking outside, and I see tactical weapons,” McLaurin, an attorney, said by phone from the restaurant. “People in a lot of gear walking on the sidewalk. Helmets. That sort of thing. It’s still a pretty active operation, it seems like.”
Patterson, the alleged shooter, had had minimal contact with the police, authorities said. He was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge in 2015 and was charged with driving under the influence and other traffic offenses in 2017 in Clayton County. The latter charges were dropped the same year.
He was discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard in January, the agency said Wednesday. The reason for the discharge was unclear.
Patterson’s last known address was in Clayton County, public records show.
A woman who answered his mother’s telephone declined to comment to the Journal-Constitution. The Daily Beast, an online news outlet, reported that Patterson’s mother, Minyone, said he had received “some messed-up medication” from a VA medical facility. But she gave no additional details.
The Department of Veteran Affairs declined to discuss Patterson’s care at its facilities.
“We are horrified and saddened to hear of the active shooter situation in Atlanta today,” VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement. “Due to patient privacy, we cannot discuss the veteran’s personal information without written consent.”
Despite searches in Atlanta and Cobb County, authorities apparently lost track of Patterson minutes after the shooting.
Sgt. Wayne Delk, a spokesman for the Cobb County police, said a surveillance camera near Truist Park captured an image of Patterson about 12:30 p.m. Two hours later, police found the truck Patterson allegedly stole in a parking garage near Heritage Court and Windy Ridge Parkway.
Officers checked several tips from citizens who thought they had spotted the suspect through the day, Cobb County Police Chief Stuart VanHoozer said. He was arrested without incident about 8 p.m.
Dickens and other officials praised cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and said technology — in particular, networks of surveillance cameras — played a large role in tracking the suspect.
But Dickens also bemoaned a “national epidemic” of gun violence that includes frequent mass shootings.
“This was a horrific act of gun violence,” Dickens said Wednesday evening after the arrest. “Equally horrific is we know this was not unique to our city.”
He acknowledged a lack of adequate treatment for people with mental illness, but he said other countries dealing with the same issue don’t experience the mass shootings that have become so commonplace in the United States. Gun Violence Archive, a website that tracks mass shootings, identified Wednesday’s shooting as the 190th this year that left four or more people killed or wounded.
“It’s the guns we’re talking about,” Dickens said. “We need to do everything we can to make sure people who shouldn’t have guns can’t get them.”
Other politicians reacted similarly to the shooting.
McLaurin, the state senator, tweeted from lockdown: “We don’t have to live like this.”
And on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) delivered an emotional speech, noting that his own children were locked down in their school.
The shooting, Warnock said, “underscores the fact that none of us is safe, no matter where we are.”
“Tragically, we act as if this is routine,” he said. “We behave as if this is normal. It is not normal. It is not right that we live in a country where nobody is safe no matter where they are.”
Staff writers Katherine Landergan and Dylan Jackson contributed to this report.