Hero tells Georgia school gunman: ‘I just want you to know I love you’
Sometimes the thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a brave mom with a heart -- and a tense call with 911 in which she tells the bad guy he’s not so bad.
After the grade-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., last year, proposals to prevent similar calamities included putting a guard with a gun in every school.
But when a disturbed young man marched into a Georgia grade school with an AK-47 and about 500 rounds of ammo on Tuesday, the quick thinking and warmth of school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff helped ensure his surrender before anyone got hurt.
Officials in DeKalb County, Ga., have released a recording of the 911 call Tuff made after Michael Brandon Hill, 20, entered the Donald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, outside Atlanta.
The call captures a few of the gunshots Hill fired at police before he reentered the school’s office, a moment after Tuff had wondered aloud whether she should make a run for it. About 800 students were at the school at the time of the incident.
The two began talking to each other as Tuff remained on the phone with 911, communicating Hill’s demands for police to back away from the school.
At one point, Hill asked Tuff to call a local TV station; according to WSB-TV in Atlanta, the gunman called the station and demanded that it send a TV crew to film him killing police.
Then the gunman began to break down.
“He said he don’t care if he dies,” Tuff told the 911 dispatcher. “He don’t have nothing to live for, and he says he not mentally stable. ... He said that he should just shoot himself. ... He said he should have just went to the mental hospital instead of doing this, because he’s not on his medication.”
Hill had a tortured past of mental illness and violent outbursts with limited psychiatric help, according to a profile by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
And as he began to waver in the school’s office, Tuff started counseling -- and consoling -- the young man, who had apparently started to despair.
“No, it does matter!” she told him, as a 911 dispatcher stood by and the gunman gave muffled replies. “I can let them know you have not tried to harm me or do anything with me or anything -- but that doesn’t make any difference, you didn’t hit anybody. ... Don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years... Yes you do! I’m sitting here with you and talking to you about it! I got a son that’s multiple-disabled. ... We’re not going to hate you, baby, it’s a good thing you’re giving up.”
Then, as Hill gave up his weapon and emptied his pockets in preparation for the police to come in and get him, Tuff began to give a speech to Hill. Her sympathy and frankness have resonated with people outside Georgia who have heard the call.
“It’s going to be all right, sweetheart, I just want you to know I love you though, OK? And I’m proud of you,” Tuff said. “That’s a good thing that you’re giving up, and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life. ... No, you don’t want that, you’re going to be OK. I thought the same thing -- I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at me now, I’m still working, and everything is going to be OK. ... Guess what, Michael? My last name is Hill, too. My mom is a Hill.”
Then, as police entered the office and shouted for Hill to stay on the ground, Tuff breathed a deep sigh of relief before turning her attention back to the 911 dispatcher.
“Hello? I’m going to tell you something baby,” Tuff told the dispatcher, as their call -- and the crisis -- came to an end. “I’ve never been so scared in all my life.”
The bookkeeper then added, perhaps now to no one at all, “Whew, Jesus.”
Times staff writer David Zucchino contributed to this report.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.