Georgia school employee helped avert tragedy in standoff

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DECATUR, Ga. -- The 911 tapes from a frightening standoff and shooting at an Atlanta-area school show how a school employee's calm demeanor and kind approach helped end the ordeal without any injuries.

Police said Wednesday that school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff was heroic in how she responded after being taken hostage a day earlier by Michael Brandon Hill, 20, a man with a history of mental health issues. Mr. Hill went to the school armed with an AK 47-style rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition, police said.

On a recording of a 911 call released Wednesday, Ms. Tuff can be heard relaying messages from Mr. Hill to DeKalb County emergency dispatchers before persuading him to surrender. She tells the dispatcher that Mr. Hill said he wasn't there to hurt the children, but wanted to talk to an unarmed officer. "He said, 'Call the probation office in DeKalb County and let them know what's going on,' " Ms. Tuff is heard telling the dispatcher. "He said he should have just went to the mental hospital instead of doing this, because he's not on his medication."

No one was injured, but police said the suspect shot into the floor and exchanged gunfire with officers who had surrounded Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, a suburb east of Atlanta. The school has 870 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

Dramatic television footage showed lines of young students racing out of the building, with police and teachers escorting them to safety. They sat outside in a field for a time until school buses came to take them to their parents at a nearby Wal-Mart.

The exchange between Ms. Tuff and the suspect was captured on a recording of the 911 call school officials made to dispatchers. Ms. Tuff begins by telling Mr. Hill of her own struggles, including raising a disabled child and losing her husband. The bookkeeper reassured him by saying he didn't hurt anyone, hadn't harmed her and could still surrender peacefully.

"We're not gonna hate you, baby. It's a good thing that you're giving up," Ms. Tuff says after having Mr. Hill put his weapons and ammunition on the counter. She tells Mr. Hill she loves him and will pray for him. Before he surrendered, Ms. Tuff took to the school's public address system to say Mr. Hill was sorry for what he'd done and didn't want to hurt anyone, although the lockdown remained in effect.

Mr. Hill is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Police declined to discuss what he told them when questioned.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 5.

Police said Mr. Hill got the gun from an acquaintance, but it's unclear if he stole it or had permission to take it. His motive is still unclear.

Law enforcement officers praised Ms. Tuff for helping to avert a potential tragedy. "She was a real ally," Chief Alexander said. "She was a real hero in all of this. She just did a stellar job. She was cool, she was calm, very collected in all of this, maintained her wherewithal."

Ms. Tuff told WSB-TV in Atlanta that she tried to keep Mr. Hill talking to prevent him from walking into the hallway or through the school building. "He had a look on him that he was willing to kill -- matter of fact, he said it. He said that he didn't have any reason to live, and that he knew he was going to die today," she said.

nation


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