What Led Georgia School Gunman to Give Up
ATLANTA (CNN) — He slipped in, police say, behind someone else — armed and ready to do battle with police from a school as hundreds of frightened children huddled in their classrooms.
Then suspect Michael Brandon Hill met Antoinette Tuff, a front office worker at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy who told ABC News about deftly disarming Hill with a combination of prayer and simple human connection.
“He said that no one loved him, and I told him that I loved him and that it was going to be OK, that we were going to get out safely,” she told the network Tuesday, hours after police had taken the 20-year-old suspect into custody following the afternoon incident outside of Atlanta.
True to Tuff’s words, no one was injured, even though authorities say Hill fired several shots at approaching police, who then returned fire.
Without providing any names, Michael Thurmond, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, praised the staff at the Decatur, Georgia, school — saying they had performed in an exemplary way in keeping students safe.
“It’s a blessed day,” he told reporters Tuesday.
New suspect information
Meanwhile, Hill remained jailed Wednesday, facing charges including aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said.
The reason for the attack remained unclear, but new information about Hill emerged Wednesday.
He is on probation from a July conviction for threatening to kill his brother in a text message in neighboring Henry County in late December, that county’s prosecutor, James Wright, said Wednesday.
He also was ordered to attend anger management classes, according to Henry County court records.
It’s not clear whether Hill started the classes. Wright said there is no indication that he completed them.
While what at first appeared to be another gut-wrenching school crisis ended as well as anyone could have hoped, the outcome didn’t always seem so certain, Tuff told ABC.
She told the network that Hill sent a teacher who had been in the front office out to tell school employees that a shooter was in the building, and told her to call police and the media.
CNN efforts to reach Tuff for comment have been unsuccessful.
According to school district spokesman Quinn Hudson, three employees witnessed what happened in the front office. He did not name any of them, but Tuff spoke openly to ABC about her experiences along with two police officers who helped arrest Hill.
“I began to speak with him at that time, but he would not say anything,” she said. He just wanted me to know he was not playing and for me to call the news and also the police to let everyone know he was here.”
‘OK with dying’
Hill walked into the school about 500 rounds of ammunition, according to Detective Ray Davis of the DeKalb County Police Department.
And while no one was injured, he did open fire — shooting at police in some of the times he went outside, said Tuff. He also fired once inside the school, she said, before she had a chance to try to connect with him.
“So I began to tell him some of my life encounters and some of that things that actually was happening to me,” she told ABC. “And to get him to be able to start talking with me and opening up.”
“He said that he hadn’t taken his medication and that he was going to die anyway and that he was OK with dying and that he was going to kill all of the police officers,” Tuff told the network.
“And that he wanted me to know that he was not going to hurt me,” she said. “And I told him OK, and that it was going to be OK.”
Tuff said she encouraged Hill to surrender and offered to stay with him until police arrived. When he agreed, she said she helped him unpack his extra ammunition before officers came.
What sustained Tuff through such an ordeal? Prayer, she says.
“I just prayed the whole time,” she told ABC.
CNN’s David Mattingly, Joe Sutton and Marylynn Ryan contributed to this report.
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