A Georgia elementary school avoided another Newtown massacre this week thanks in large part to the level-headed heroics of bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff. When 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill entered Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, outside of Atlanta, with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition, he encountered Tuff in the school’s front office. “I just started telling him my life story and what was going on with me,” Tuff said after the hostage situation ended with no injuries. But her humble nonchalance undersells just how amazing she was as an intermediary between police and Hill, as heard on the newly released 911 recording.
In short, she’s an angel. “You gonna be okay,” Tuff tells Hill. “We’re not gonna hate you.” She informs the operator that the gunman said he “should have just went to the mental hospital instead of doing this because he is not on his medication … He said he don’t care if he dies, he don’t have nothing to live for,” she says. “He said he’s not mentally stable.”
A woman who knew Hill through church said he’s been “diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, and other mental issues,” but that since his Medicaid expired, “he was unable to get his medicine.” Hill can be heard on the tape asking Tuff to keep the police back: “Tell them to stop bothering me,” he says.
She stays impossibly calm and talks him down by connecting on a personal level. “I just want you to know that I love you and that I’m proud of you. We all go through something in life,” she says. “My husband just left me after 33 years. I got a son that’s multiple disabled … I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at me now. Everything is okay.”
When Hill finally puts down his weapon and surrenders, Tuff finally exhales. “I’m going to tell you something, baby: I’ve never been so scared in all the days in my life,” she says to the operator, finally letting herself cry. “Oh, Jesus! Oh, God!” The operator replies, “You did great.”
Here’s Tuff telling her story: