Just after 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, twenty-year-old Michael Brandon Hill slipped inside the school armed with an assault rifle, going directly to the front office of the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Atlanta, Ga. He met Antoinette Tuff, school clerk and bookkeeper, who was forced to become a crime-fighting crisis negotiator. In an ABC News exclusive on Wednesday, Aug. 21, the calm and collected Tuff described events which had unfolded the second day of the second week of school.
On Aug. 20, “in an all too familiar scene” Hill had followed someone through the front door of the elementary school where over 800 children from pre-K through fifth grade were in attendance. Armed with an assault rifle and other guns, the disturbed Hill went straight to the front office where he ran into Tuff. He told her “that he didn’t have any reason to live and that he knew he was going to die, today,” Tuff told ABC News.
Cafeteria manager, Malcolm Quillen, came into the office soon after and he said, “Ms. Tuff told me that the gentleman was serious about me following his instructions. Soon as she said the word ‘serious’ he just fired the gun off into the wall.” Hill told Quillen to leave. He did and stated that after he had, “I called my principal, told him that there was a gunman in the building. Call 911.” Hill asked Tuff to call WSB, the local ABC affiliate, telling them that Hill wanted the news station to “start filming as police officers die.”
When police officers surrounded the school, Hill started firing at the officers. Officers returned fire, after finding out that they had a clear shot, and that students and school personnel were safely out of the line of fire. Students took cover underneath their desks. A window was shattered, but no one was hurt. Police moved in and teachers rushed students out, onto waiting school buses which would take them to their parents on a nearby Walmart parking lot, and safety. Ms. Tuff continued to quietly, and calmly talk to the gunman, keeping him away from classrooms where there were students and teachers.
Tuff is being called “an angel of a bookkeeper” and a hero. Her calm and engaged whispers convinced Hill to surrender and kept him away from the students. Tuff said that the alleged elementary school shooter told her no one loved him. She responded to his distressed declaration, “I love you.” Demonstrating her coolness under pressure technique that she had employed on Tuesday when, single-handedly, she had talked him into surrendering, preventing disaster, Tuff said, “I told him that it was going to be okay, that we were going to get out safely.”
She told him some of her own struggles and her life encounters. He opened up and began to start talking to her, telling her that he had not taken his medication, but that “he was going to die anyway.” He said that “he was okay with dying and that he was going to kill all of the police officers.” He promised Antoinette that he was not going to harm her.
She told him that she would stay with him until the police came to get him if he would “go ahead and surrender, since he didn’t hurt anyone.” Ms. Tuff then said, still calmly in a matter of fact tone of voice, “I walked him through taking everything out of his pocket, taking all of the magazines that he had loaded — all of the additional weapons and everything that he had on him — out of the bag and put the bag on the counter along with everything else.” She told George that she stayed so composed in the situation “through prayer ... I just prayed all the time.”
Hill is in custody at this time. His brother told ABC News’ Steve Osunsami that Hill has a history of mental health issues. “I had a feeling he was going to eventually one day do something stupid, but not in this magnitude,” said Timothy Hill, suspect’s brother. He said that Brandon’s medicine cabinet looked like a pharmacy and that he was a “ticking time bomb.” Timothy also said that his brother started getting into trouble, breaking into churches and stealing from school, when he was very young.
Officer Hines and Detective Hobbs of the Atlanta Police Department appeared with Antoinette Tuff on Good Morning America, telling George Stephanopoulos that Ms. Tuff had done “an amazing job.” George stated that she had done everything right, calling Tuff an “everyday hero” and commenting on her composure. Antoinette took all praise in stride, saying that she was returning to work after leaving the interview.