As frightening as last week’s shootings and standoff at a Decatur school were, the resourcefulness of a school employee kept a scary and dangerous situation from becoming a deadly disaster.
Talking with Atlanta TV station WSB last week, Antionette Tuff, a clerk at Ronald E. McNair Discovery learning Academy in Decatur, said the gunman, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill, made it clear that he intended to kill a number of people and die in a shootout with police.
Fortunately, Tuff was able to find the right words to prevent Hill from making good on his threats. Her actions most certainly saved the lives of students, co-workers and police. The term hero is thrown around with abandon these days, but Tuff truly earned that accolade.
“He had a look on him that he was willing to kill, matter of fact he said it,” Tuff said. “He was going to end his life and take all the cops and everybody with him,”
Police released 911 tapes Wednesday that substantiated Tuff’s assertions. Reports said that her voice can be heard on the call, speaking calmly with the gunman and persuading him not to hurt anyone and to surrender to authorities because it was the right thing to do. Somehow, she instilled some glimmer of hope and desire to live in an individual who had neither when he walked in the school brandishing an AK-47. Noting that she had tried to commit suicide when her 33-year marriage ended, Tuff showed that even the bleakest of times can be overcome.
Tuff said she managed several times to talk Hill out of going outside the building where the students were. Had he gone out, she had no doubt he would have shot many of them before taking on the police.
“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,” she said.
Hill had already shot at the police outside the school and fired off a round inside the building when Tuff convinced him to lay down his weapon, empty his pockets and give up to police. On the tape, reports said, she could be heard telling the gunman, “It’s going to be all right, sweetheart. … I just want you to know that I love you though, and I’m proud of you.”
He was taken by police without further incident.
Before being faced with a dire situation, no one really knows what he or she will do. Had Hill met someone who panicked and became hysterical, the story in Decatur would have been grim. Because Tuff kept her wits about her, showed she cared, was brave enough to try, and spoke words of comfort from her heart and faith, Decatur was spared from becoming another Sandy Hook.
One lone woman made an incalculable difference in the lives of those families who did not lose loved ones to senseless slaughter. Even the would-be killer now has a chance to get medical care. At the very least, Hill will be placed in a situation where he won’t be a threat to others.
Tuff returned to her two children, students returned to their families, as did school personnel and the law enforcement officials who were willing to put their lives on the line.
And once again, we all learned how one individual can make a tremendous difference.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board