McNair bookkeeper calm, empathetic with school shooter

The 911 tapes from the McNair Learning Academy shooting Tuesday reveal a gripping real-life drama where a bookkeeper remained remarkably calm in the face of a troubled gunman who invaded the school. The 24-minute recording shows Antoinette Tuff continually reassuring the man and displaying empathy, which kept his mood — and the situation — from exploding.

Michael Brandon Hill suddenly appeared in the front office of the 800-pupil DeKalb County elementary school. He was armed with an AK-47 style semi-automatic weapon and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition. Tuff, the mother of a disabled son, connected with the mentally troubled man, who said he did not take his medicine. She kept him talking, made him feel like he had a friend and then finally talked him into surrendering without anyone getting hurt.

On Wednesday, Tuff, hailed as a hero, took the day off and apparently went to a spa after giving a round of interviews to national TV shows.

Tuesday’s tape starts with Tuff telling a 911 operator “the gentleman says he’s going to start shooting, so tell them to back off.”

Moments later, shots can be heard in the background and Tuff, without much emotion, said, “Oooh. He just went outside and started shooting.”

Soon, he returned and Tuff then relayed his demands: “Stop all movement (of police),” she told the operator. Then Tuff can be heard performing his next demand — trying to find a phone number for a TV station.

She multitasks, going between his communication intermediary and almost confidant.

“OK, he said tell them to back off. He doesn’t want the kids. He wants the police. And what else, sir? He said don’t care if he dies he don’t have nothing to live for and he said he’s not mentally stable.”

Soon, Tuff sounded urgent, although on Hill’s behalf, who is also seemingly getting nervous.

“Tell them to stand down now! Tell them to stand now!” she said, then adding, “He said.”

“He said he should just shoot his self.”

Hill got on the phone with a relative and Tuff interjected herself into his conversation, “She sounds like she loves you a lot.”

She told the 911 operator that Hill said he should have “just gone to the mental hospital instead of doing this because he’s not on his medication.”

Tuff then talked to the gunman, “I can help you? Want me to try? … OK, let me talk to them and see if we can work it out so you don’t have to go along with them for a long time. Yes, it does matter.”

She tells him that he didn’t shoot anybody, trying to get him to believe he won’t be in as much trouble as he believes.

Then, to the operator, she said, “If I walk out there with him, so they won’t shoot him or anything. He wants to give himself up, is that OK?”

Again, she becomes friend and therapist: “Don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years. … I’ve got a son that’s multiple disabled.”

Then to the operator: “He wants me to go on the intercom and let everybody know he’s sorry. Ma’am. He’s going to come on out but he wants to know what do you want him to do with the gun?”

“Come over here and put it over here,” Tuff told him. “Put it all up there. OK.”

“Tell me when you’re ready and I’ll tell them to come on in,” she told him, then switching back to the operator: “He wants to drink his bottle of water. Let him get it together.”

Then back to Hill: “Did you want me to call somebody and talk to somebody for you? We’re not going to hate you baby.”

Then back to the operator: “He’s getting everything out of his pockets now…Do you want him to take his belt off? He said he doesn’t have no more weapons.

“Tell the officers not to come in shooting, they can come on in and I’ll buzz them in.”

Again, to the now-surrendering suspect in a soothing tone: “Hold on right there. Stay there calm, don’t worry about it. I’ll sit right here so they’ll see you’re not trying to harm me.

“It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I want you to know I love you though, and I’m proud of you.

“We all go through something in life …”

Soon, officers can he heard yelling and arresting him.

Tuff’s voice then breaks, displaying the first emotion since the situation developed. “I’ll tell you something, baby, I’ve never been so scared any day of my life,” she told the operator. “Ooooooh Jesus. Oh God.”

Operator: “But you did great.”

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