Yesterday, Michael Brandon Hill, a 20-year-old with a history of mental illness, allegedly entered Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school in Decatur, Georgia, with an AK-47 and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition. Dressed in black, he'd slipped in behind someone authorized to be there and confronted Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper who'd just sat down temporarily to relieve the school secretary of her duty. This was serendipitous timing: Tuff is the one who ultimately convinced Hill to surrender before anyone was hurt.
In a 16-minute sit-down interview with Atlanta's WSBTV Channel 2, Antoinette Tuff relays her drawn-out interaction with Hill, who loaded his weapon in front of her and declared his intention to murder as many people as he possibly could. Her testimony, which deserves to watched in full, is absolutely tremendous.
Hill hadn't planned to exploit the element of surprise: He initially instructed Tuff to get on the school intercom to tell everybody "he wasn't playing." She called 911 and stayed on the line with the operator; He also pushed her to call a local news station because "he was gonna end his life and take all the cops and everybody with him." He shot off a round in the office with Tuff, who just kept talking with him, sensing how troubled he really was. "I knew that if he got outside, he was unstable enough to start shooting at everybody."
The incident's chronology is described imprecisely, but at one point, Hill exchanged fire with cops who were gathered outside. Hill kept saying that he was "hopeless" and didn't have any reason to live, so Tuff offered him empathy. She talked about her own life, how she'd recently gone through a devastating divorce ("I'd just lost my husband after 33 years and that was the only man that I knew since I was 13 years old"), how she had a son with multiple disabilities, and how last year she'd "felt at my low and didn't feel like anybody loved me."
Hill started to listen. "'Look at me,' I told him, 'I'm still living,'" she continued. "He then started opening up to me and told me that he didn't take his medicine and that he was sick and that he knew that it was going to end for him because he'd already at that time started shooting at the police officers." Tuff reassured him things could get better. "I told him that was not so. I would allow them to know he didn't do anybody any harm."
(Today, NBC reports that Hill's mother died and that he'd stopped taking his medicine because his Medicaid expired. CBS adds that Hill pleaded guilty to threatening to kill his brother earlier this year.)
Eventually, Tuff convinced him that his life wasn't over. He put his guns down on the table, emptied his pockets, relinquished his bags (a "whole lot of stuff"), gave up his phone and a bottle of water. He even had her get back on the intercom and tell everybody he was sorry. As he laid on the floor unarmed, the police came in and apprehended him.
Late in the video, the Channel 2 interviewer calls Tuff a hero. The mother of two swats that away. "Wasn't nobody but God."
[via Slate // Top AP photo by John Bazemore, Michael Brandon Hill's mugshot via Dekalb County Sheriff's Department ]
To contact the author of this post, email firstname.lastname@example.org.