Michael Brandon Hill, 20, walked into the office of an Atlanta elementary school with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition on Tuesday. But no one will remember the tragic deaths at McNair Discovery Learning Center, because there weren’t any. Antoinette Tuff, the school clerk, talked to the mentally ill young man for more than an hour, finally persuading him to surrender. Here’s the tape of her 911 call. This is what courage sounds like.
Hill fired some shots outside the school, but Tuff decided not to make a run for it, notes Josh Voorhees on Slate. The moment “forces you to more fully consider, however briefly, the alternative scenarios that could have played out at the elementary school if she had fled.”
In what may be the most incredible moment in a tape full of them—one that comes after Tuff has convinced Hill to surrender and shortly before the police come in—the school clerk tells Hill that she loves him. “It’s gonna be all right, sweetie,” she says. “I just want you to know that I love you, though, OK? And I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing. You’ve just given up. Don’t worry about it.” It’s only later, after police have Hill in custody, that we hear Tuff’s voice waver. “Let me tell you something, baby,” she tells the dispatcher. “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life.”
Tuff’s empathy prevented a tragedy, writes Dahlia Lithwick. “In her first interview after the standoff, Tuff mentions that in the initial terrible moments she thought about a sermon series on “anchoring” that her pastor had been preaching, and it helped her to see that Hill was bereaved and in pain, and she was praying for him.”