"You Don't Have To Die Today," School Worker Talks Down Atlanta Gunman, Prevents Massacre

by
Owen Poindexter
Antoinette Tuff, an elementary school administrator in the Atlanta area, knew that she might be on the verge of witnessing a national tragedy, and could even lose her own life.


Antoinette Tuff described talking down a man with an assault rifle in her Atlanta area school in this extensive interview.

Antoinette Tuff, an elementary school administrator in the Atlanta area, knew that she might be on the verge of witnessing a national tragedy, and could even lose her own life.

“When he came in the door, he came with the gun drawn,” Tuff describes. “He said, ‘I’m not playing.’”

A gunman with an assault rifle entered Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur. The school has a buzz-in system which screens everyone attempting to enter the school, but the gunman, Michael Brandon Hill, followed a parent, who had just been allowed entry.

More than 800 students evacuated, and Hill, 20, told someone at the school to call a TV station and the police. School volunteer Deborah Haynes happened to be at the school office when Hill was there.

"I heard him say, 'I'm not here to harm any staff or any parents or students,''' she said. "He said he wanted to speak to a police officer."

Hill, unlike Newtown killer Adam Lanza, did not want to murder people at the school, he wanted to get in a gun fight with the police. Hill got his wish, at least at the start. Police arrived at the school, and bomb-sniffing dogs smelled explosives in Hill’s car.

Meanwhile, Antoinette Tuff did what she could to calm Hill down. She asked him his name, which he was reluctant to give. Then, she started telling him her story.

"OK, we all have situations in our lives. I went through a tragedy myself," Tuff recalls telling Hill. Tuff was married for 33 years, until the painful disintegration of that relationship. She tried to start a business, which became an extended “roller coaster” of success and failure.

Tuff explained that she had been through a lot and come out okay, so whatever was going on with Hill, he would be okay too, as long as he put down his gun and gave himself up.

“You don’t have to die today,” Tuff told him.

“He had me actually get on the intercom and tell everybody he was sorry, too. But I told them, 'He was sorry, but do not come out of their rooms.' ... I give it all to God, I'm not the hero. I was terrified."

What could have been another sad shooting, with who knows how many dead, ended with Hill giving himself up voluntarily. Like many heroes, Antoinette Tuff doesn’t think of herself that way, but she absolutely is a hero who saved lives with her poise and compassion.

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