Michael Brandon Hill, 20, shown in this Wednesday photo, was arrested Tuesday for opening fire with an AK-47 inside an elementary school in the Atlanta suburbs, forcing the evacuation of 800 students who were all reunited with their parents without injury, officials said. (DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office)
ATLANTA (Reuters) — A woman credited with convincing the gunman holed up in an Atlanta-area school to lay down his AK-47 assault rifle and surrender to police says the man was suicidal and preparing to die in the attack before she talked him out of it.
“He had a look on him that he was willing to kill, matter of fact he said it,” said Antoinette Tuff, a clerk at the elementary school in the Atlanta suburbs where Tuesday’s incident ended with no injuries after a tense standoff.
“He was going to end his life and take all the cops and everybody with him,” Tuff told Atlanta’s WSB-TV television news.
“I’m not the hero. I was terrified,” she said.
Tuff was sitting in the front office of the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy when Michael Brandon Hill, 20, walked in brandishing his rifle.
“He said he didn’t have any reason to live and he knew he was going to die today,” Tuff said.
He had already shot at police outside the building, and fired off one round inside the office, before she talked him into surrendering, Tuff said.
The 20-year-old, apparently suffering from a mental disorder, told Tuff he “felt hopeless” and also said he was off his medication, she said.
Apart from trying to bond with Hill she said her priority was ensuring he stayed inside the office with her, so no harm would come to others including the school’s 800 students.
“He actually tried to go out the door where the kids were and I called him back and kept talking to him to keep him calm, to stay inside with me … Because I knew that if he got outside he was going to start shooting kids,” she said.
“If he got outside he was unstable enough to start shooting at everybody,” she added.
“It was scary because I knew that at that moment he was ready to take my life along with his, and if I didn’t say the right thing we would all be dead,” Tuff said.
At one point, the recently divorced mother of two said Hill, sitting directly across from her in the office, began methodically loading AK-47 magazines that he pulled out of a book bag he was carrying along with spare ammunition.
Police said on Wednesday that Hill was carrying 500 rounds.
“He just kept re-loading the gun and all the chambers and all the magazines that he had,” she said.
At the end, after telling him that life was worth living and even saying she “loved him,” Tuff said she persuaded Hill to put down his gun and all the ammunition he was carrying. He then lay face down on the floor so police could come in and arrest him, she said.
“He had me actually get on the intercom and tell everybody that he was sorry, too,” she said.
The incident at the Georgia elementary school came less than a year after a heavily armed gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six adults.
The Connecticut rampage re-ignited debate over gun control in America.
Hill faces numerous charges including aggravated assault on a police officer and making terroristic threats.