The quick thinking of a school clerk made all the difference — very likely saving lives — when 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill, armed with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition and dressed in black, showed up at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, on Tuesday afternoon.
Bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff was among school personnel in the charter school’s front office when Hill walked in behind someone authorized to enter the building. As she told World News with Diane Sawyer, she and other employees saw him load the gun with ammunition. “[I saw] a young man ready to kill anybody that he could and take any lives he wanted to.”
Tuff tried to ask the assailant his name to calm him; she said he at first refused to tell her. According to Tuff, Hill also “told [her] he was sorry for what he was doing. He was willing to die.”
It was when Tuff started talking about herself that Hill started listening:
“I told him, ‘OK, we all have situations in our lives.’ I went through a tragedy myself. It was going to be OK. If I could recover, he could too.”
Tuff said she talked about her marriage of 33 years ending and the “roller coaster” of starting her own business.
Hill stepped outside of the school when police and U.S. marshals arrived and there was an exchange of fire before he returned inside. Fearing that he would go back out and shoot at police or children, Tuff asked Hill to “put [his gun] on the table [and] empty his pockets.” Hill agreed to surrender.
According to Tuff, “he had me actually get on the intercom and tell everybody he was sorry, too. … I give it all to God, I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”
SWAT teams helped to evacuate the children, the youngest of whom were in pre-kindergarten.
Hill faces charges including aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Hill had recently been arrested for alleged terroristic threats and acts, sources told ABC News; a man with the same name and age as him had been arrested in McDonough, Georgia, five months ago and been sentenced to three years’ probation and anger management
“I told the police he was giving himself up. I just talked him through it,” Tuff told ABC News.
Tuff has said that she is not a hero. Nonetheless, it is impossible not to be in awe of what she did on Tuesday; she very likely averted another tragic loss of life like that in in Newtown, Connecticut last December.
Tuff’s brave acts are more than a reminder of the everyday heroism of teachers and others who work at our schools — principals, office staff, custodians, counselors — and make them sites not only of learning but communities that mean all the world to students and to parents.
We entrust the learning and the lives of our children to schools every day. As a parent, I’m simply grateful to know that individuals like Tuff are not afraid — are more than willing, even if their life is on the line — to do all that has to be done for the welfare of all and for our children.
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