A young gunman may have bypassed a security system to enter a Georgia elementary school Tuesday, but he could not get past school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff.
Tuff says she was able to persuade the gunman, who police said fired half a dozen shots from an AK-47 at officers, to lay down his weapons and ammunition inside a school office. She even convinced the man to lie on the floor with his hands behind his back as police closed in, Tuff told ABC News.
“I just talked him through it,” Tuff said in a televised interview.
Police have charged Michael Brandon Hill, 20, with aggravated assault on a police officer, terrorist threats and possession of a firearm by a felon. Police said Hill barricaded himself inside the school office and fired on police, who returned fire.
Hill waived his first court appearance Wednesday and no bail was set.
No one was harmed in the incident, which sent the school’s 800 students fleeing out back doors and through a hole cut in a fence by police officers. Frantic parents, some of whom had seen TV images of students racing from the school, had to wait behind police tape before they were allowed to pick up their children, who had been taken by bus to a nearby Walmart parking lot.
The incident took place during the second week of classes at the Donald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., outside Atlanta. Police said the gunman apparently bypassed a system requiring visitors to be buzzed in past locked doors by following closely behind someone authorized to enter.
“He said he was going to end his life and take all the cops and everybody with him,” Tuff told ABC. “He had a look on him that he was willing to kill and matter of fact he said it. He said he didn’t have any reason to live and knew he was going to die.”
Tuff said she tried to calm the gunman by telling him her life story. She told him she had overcome crises in her life and suggested that he could too.
“I told him we all have situations in our lives ... and if I could recover ... he could too,” she said.
According to WSB-TV in Atlanta, the gunman called the station and demanded that it send a TV crew to film him killing police. After he was arrested, a police officer told the station, the gunman told officers, “I’m sorry – I’m off my meds.”
Hill was charged March 13 with making terrorist threats against his brother, Timothy Hill, in December, according to several Atlanta media outlets.
After the gunman talked on the phone Tuesday with members of his family, Tuff said, she asked him to empty his pockets and backpack of weapons and ammunition. He complied, laying the automatic rifle on a table. Police said the gunman carried more than one weapon and may have stashed explosives in his car in the school parking lot.
“I told him to lay on the floor. I told the police he was giving himself up,” Tuff said. “And I just talked him through it.”
When it was all over, she said a prayer: “I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ ”