On Tuesday, Aug. 20, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill crept behind a parent and entered Discover Learning Academy elementary school with the intention of committing a mass murder. Hill skillfully made his way into the school just outside of Atlanta, GA carrying an AK-47-style assault rifle, and 500 rounds of ammo.
870 children between the ages of five and eleven years old were in the building at the time Hill entered. Fortunately, Hill didn’t get past his first stop in the school—the office where school bookkeeper Antionette Tuff was seated. Tuff soon found herself negotiating with Michael, who admitted he had stopped taking medication for psychiatric issues and had “nothing left to live for.”
Nearly twenty-five minutes of the hour-long interaction between Hill and Tuff was recorded by a 911 dispatcher, with Tuff talking down the young man by sharing her own recent struggles in life. Tuff recounted the ordeal with the local news station, saying she told him, “I love you. I’m proud of you. We all go through something in life. You’re gonna be OK. I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me.”
Although Tuff had managed to keep Hill distracted, he eventually exchanged gunfire with encroaching police, and though no one was injured, he was adamant about keeping the police force out. Hill instructed Tuff to call the local news station to alert others of his presence at the school. Tuff followed instructions while simultaneously negotiating with the young man. Eventually, she was able to convince Michael to lay on the floor and surrender.
Without Tuff’s help, many feared the incident would have been a recurrence of the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting in Newtown, CT, which left 20 children and six adults dead.
Fortunately, Tuff was able to prevent a tragedy from occurring by using her immense courage and patience when talking Hill down. Before he surrendered, Tuff made an announcement on the school’s public address system, saying that Hill was sorry for what he’d done and didn’t want to hurt anyone.
Tuff received a personal call from President Obama following the incident, and thanking her for her bravery. She credits God for preventing an attack.
Neighbors and those who knew Hill are in still in shock following the incident, saying that this violent behavior was out of character for him.
Natasha Knotts, a woman who took Hill in after he began attending a church where she is assistant pastor, said that Hill’s behavior was an unfortunate cry for help. Knotts believes that the young man was struggling and could not identify a healthy way to seek help for his issues.
This incident has again shed light on gun control in the U.S., among other issues such as mental health treatment. Hill was able to obtain the gun from a friend, and was off his medication due to the fact that his Medicaid had previously expired.
Hill is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Claudia Saari, DeKalb County public defender’s office attorney, stated that a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 5.