DECATUR, Ga. – The 911 tapes from a frightening standoff and shooting at an Atlanta-area school show how a school employee’s calm demeanor and kind approach helped end the ordeal without any injuries.
Police said school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff was heroic in how she responded after being taken hostage a day earlier by Michael Brandon Hill, a 20-year-old man with a history of mental health issues. Hill went to the school armed with an AK 47-style rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition, police said.
On a recording of a 911 call released by police, Tuff can be heard relaying messages from Hill to DeKalb County emergency dispatchers before persuading him to surrender. She tells the dispatcher that Hill said he wasn’t there to hurt the children but wanted to talk to an unarmed officer.
No one was injured, but police said the suspect shot into the floor and exchanged gunfire with officers who had surrounded Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school of 870 students in Decatur. Tuff begins by telling Hill of her own struggles, including raising a disabled child and losing her husband. The bookkeeper reassured him by saying he didn’t hurt anyone, hadn’t harmed her and could still surrender peacefully.
“We’re not gonna hate you, baby. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up,” Tuff says after having Hill put his weapons and ammunition on the counter. Tuff tells Hill she loves him and will pray for him.
Hill is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Police said Hill got the gun from an acquaintance, but it’s not clear whether he stole it or had permission to take it.
Law enforcement officers praised Tuff for helping to avert a potential tragedy.
“She was a real ally,” DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander said. “She was a real hero in all of this. She just did a stellar job. She was cool, she was calm, very collected in all of this.”
During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday, Tuff said President Barack Obama called her while she sat in the network’s makeup room. Tuff told Cooper that she’d like to visit Hill and speak with him again.
“He’s a hurting soul, and so if there’s any kind of way I can help him and allow him to get on the right path – we all go through something,” she said.