Reading like a script created especially for Lifetime network, a school clerk at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga. (east of Atlanta), talked 20-year-old Michael Brandon into laying down his guns, emptying his pockets, dropping his backpack, and placing himself prostrate on the floor for authorities to enter and arrest him after entering the school and opening fire. Tuff told ABC News in an exclusive interview shortly after the incident on Aug. 20 that the man was "ready to kill anybody" and "willing to die." But he didn't, because then she told him her life tory.
“I [saw] a young man ready to kill anybody that he could and take any lives he wanted to," Tuff told Diane Sawyer. She would later say, “He told me he was sorry for what he was doing. He was willing to die.”
Tuff explained that Hill had wanted to go outside the school and have a shootout with the police. Authorities had arrived and secured and cordoned off the area, SWAT teams moving from room to room ensuring that all the children (870 students are enrolled at McMair Discovery Learning Academy) and adults had left the building. Hill did step outside and exchange gunfire with police several times. He wanted to go one more time and have a shootout with the cops. But she told him that he didn’t want to do that.
She then started telling him her life story. She told him about how her 33-year marriage fell apart and how her owning her own business was a "roller coaster.”
"I told him, 'OK, we all have situations in our lives. I went through a tragedy myself,'" she told ABC News. "It was going to be OK. If I could recover, he could too."
Amazingly, the gunman listened.
Even more amazing, Tuff then requested that Hill put his weapons down, empty his pockets and put his backpack on the floor. He did. Police then entered and took the gunman into custody without further incident.
"I told the police he was giving himself up. I just talked him through it," she told Sawyer.
The Associated Press reported earlier that Michael Brandon Hill had fired at least a half-dozen shots at police as they began to create a perimeter around the suspect. DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander said at a news conference that Hill was arrested and several weapons were confiscated.
There has yet to be a motive mentioned.
WSB-TV was contacted by a woman in the office at McNair Discovery Learning Academy. Assignment editor Lacey Lecroy from the station said she spoke with a woman who said she was alone with the gunman.
"It didn't take long to know that this woman was serious," Lecroy said. "Shots were one of the last things I heard. I was so worried for her."
Michael Brandon Hill was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The students escaped the school and congregated along the fence outside the school and were soon shepherded onto buses and taken to a nearby Walmart where worried parents awaited them. When the buses pulled into sight, parents, some of whom were openly emotional, cheered and clapped as the children waved from the windows.
Antoinette Tuff has become an instant celebrity, already being labeled a hero by the media. Her brave story will soon be the stuff of legend and without a doubt a generator of numerous interviews and news stories. There could possibly even be a movie (and book?) in her future. And what better subject matter than a woman facing death against a gunman armed to the teeth and intent on mayhem and murder, a woman relying on her wits and her instincts to find common ground with a desperate man in order to avert what could have been a tragedy akin to the Sandy Hook school shooting?
Tuff should expect a call from Lifetime network (and other networks and production companies) in the coming days