Let us all take a minute to applaud the breath-taking heroism of Antoinette Tuff. In case you haven’t heard, Tuff is the bookkeeper at an elementary school in Decatur, Georgia, named the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy. Tuff—whose name is wonderfully appropriate—used her charm, sweetness and incredibly quick thinking to tame a crazed 20-year-old gunman intent on shooting up the youngsters in the Atlanta-area school. She convinced him to put down his fully loaded AK-47 and other weapons on her desk and actually lay on the floor in front of her until the police could come in and arrest him.
There are 870 students in Ronald McNair, not to mention dozens of staff members. The gunman, who has been identified as Michael Brandon Hill, had 500 rounds of ammunition.
Let that sink in for a second. Enough rounds to commit a gallery of unspeakable Newtown shooting horrors.
But Hill didn’t count on encountering the glorious grace of the lovely Miss Tuff. We throw around the word “hero” quite a bit in our society, not always in situations that are appropriate to the word. But this woman embodies every syllable. Tuff doesn’t accept the “hero” label, but that’s because she’s also a humble woman of faith. “I give it all to God. I’m not the hero. I was terrified,” she said in one of the television interviews she gave afterwards. But despite her terror, she was still able to summon a calm that allowed her to settle a mentally disturbed young man who thought he was ready to end it all—and take a lot of innocent people along with him. “He had a look on him that he was willing to kill,” Tuff said. “He said he didn’t have any reason to live, and he knew he was going to die today.”
Tuff began talking, describing how her separation from her husband after 33 years of marriage left her feeling lonely and in pain. She said she prayed, for the gunman, for the calm. When Hill actually began shooting out at the police, Tuff kept talking. And she told him something that surely must have touched him. “I just explained to him that I loved him,” she said. “I didn’t know his name, I didn’t know much about him, but I did love him.” Eventually, she was able to persuade him to surrender to police.“It was scary because I knew that at the moment, he was ready to take my life along with his, and that if I didn’t say the right thing then we all would be dead,” she told ABC.
We like to spend a lot of time in this country complaining about our schools—and about the people who work in them. But this once, let us all recognize how lucky we are that this particular school had this particular woman on its staff. And then let us think once again about the insanity of our gun laws. Laws that would allow this young man—who apparently lived down the street from the school—to be in possession of an assault rifle and 500 rounds when he had been arrested earlier this year for threatening on Facebook to shoot his older brother Timothy Hill, 22, in the head “and not think twice about it,” according to a police report obtained by CBS News.
This is a young man whose brother Timothy told police that Michael had “mental issues” and was under a doctor’s care and who made him “fear for his life.” This is a young man who had turned himself in to police in March on the outstanding warrant for making “terroristic threats,” after which he entered a negotiated plea and was sentenced to three years of probation and anger management. Timothy said his brother has a “long history of medical disorders, including bipolar, and that could make you snap on a dime.” Timothy said his mother’s house was so full of Michael’s medications that it looked like a “drugstore.” “I had a feeling he was going to eventually, one day, do something stupid, but not of this magnitude,” Timothy said.
A long history of mental disorders. Arrest record. Bipolar. Anger management. Terroristic threats. And an AK-47 and 500 rounds. Pray tell, where did Michael Brandon Hill get the gun?
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Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.