When she walked into work Tuesday morning, Antoinette Tuff didn’t plan on being a hero. But after convincing the gunman who burst into the office of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy to surrender to police, that’s exactly what many are calling her today.
The ordeal began when Michael Brandon Hill walked into the school and threatened to kill himself and others. Armed with an assault riffle, the 20-year-old held the office staff hostage and demanded they call local news stations to watch him kill police officers. Tuff sprang into action, despite telling reporters Hill “had a look on him that he was willing to kill.”
Tuff called reporters, but continued to talk to Hill to keep him calm. At one point, Tuff said the gunman tried to exit the office and go toward classrooms, but she stopped him and continued to engage him in conversation.
Tuff told the gunman her life story, and tried to convince him that he still had a way out.
“He said he was going to end his life and take all the cops and everybody with him … He had a look on him that he was willing to kill and matter of fact he said it,” Tuff told ABC News. “He said he didn’t have any reason to live and that he knew he was going to die ….”
Tuff also said he apologized for what he was doing.
The school clerk said she tried to keep the assailant calm by asking him his name but, she said, at first he wouldn’t tell it to her.
Then, he began listening to her tell her life story. She said she told him about how her marriage fell apart after 33 years and the “roller coaster” of opening her own business.
“I told him, ‘OK, we all have situations in our lives. I went through a tragedy myself,’” she said. “It was going to be OK. If I could recover, he could too.”
Then Tuff made the request that she said helped end the standoff. She said she asked the suspect to put his weapons down, empty his pockets and backpack and lay on the floor.
“I told the police he was giving himself up. I just talked him through it,” she said.
Although she remained calm and safely got Hill to turn himself in to authorities, Tuff, the school’s bookkeeper, says she isn’t a hero.
“I give it all to God,” she told WSB-TV. “I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”