It was a school day like any other, until a man with an AK-47-type weapon slipped into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy Tuesday and fired shots into the ground. Antoinette Tuff sprang into action. The bookkeeper and eight-year veteran of the DeKalb County, Georgia, school district called 911 from the school's office, worked as go-between communicating with the shooter and the police dispatcher during a tense 31-minute confrontation, and eventually talked the suspect into surrendering.
'He's going to start shooting'
Tuff: I'm on Second Avenue in the school and the gentleman said tell them to hold down the police, officers are coming, he's going to start shooting so tell them to back off.
Dispatcher: One moment.
Tuff: Do not let anyone in the building, including no police. Do not let anybody in the building -- including the police.
Dispatcher: OK. Stay on the line with me, ma'am. Where are you?
Tuff: I'm in the front office. (gunshots) Oh, he just went outside and started shooting. (gunshots) Can I run?
Dispatcher: (gunshots) Can you get somewhere safe?
Tuff: Yeah, I got to go. He going to see me running. He coming back.
'He doesn't want the kids'
Tuff: He said -- he said to tell them to back off. He doesn't want the kids, he wants the police so back off -- what else, sir? He said he don't care if he die and he don't have nothing to live for, and he said he's not mentally stable.
Dispatcher: OK. Stay on the line with me. OK? Put the phone down if you have to, but don't put it on hold so I can't hear.
Dispatcher: Tell me where you are.
Tuff: In the front office with him.
'I can help you'
Tuff: He said he should have went to the mental hospital instead of doing this because he's not on his medication.
Tuff: (to the suspect) Well do you want me -- I can help you. Want me -- do you want to talk to them? Want me to talk to them and try -- OK. Well let me talk to them and let's see if we can work it out so you don't have to go away with them for a long time. No, it does matter. I can let them know that you have not tried to harm me or do anything with me or anything. But that doesn't make any difference. You didn't hit anybody. OK. (to the dispatcher) Let me ask you this, ma'am. He didn't hit anybody he just shot outside the door, if I walk out there with him -- if I walk out there with him so they won't shoot him or anything like that. He wants to give himself up. Is that OK? They won't shoot him?
Dispatcher: Yes, ma'am.
Tuff: He wants to go to the hospital.
Tuff: (to the suspect) She said hold on and she going to talk to the police officer and I'll go out there with you. Well, don't feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years ... I mean, iIm sitting here with you and talking to you about it. I got a son that's multiple disabled ... It's all going to be well. They just going to talk to the police.
'I love you'
Tuff: Tell the officers -- don't come on shooting and tell them to come on in. I'll buzz them in.
Tuff: Hold on. Sit there and I'll buzz them in so you know when they coming. OK? OK? Stay there calm. Don't worry about it. I'll sit here so they see you not trying to harm me. OK? OK.
Tuff: It's going to be all right, sweetie. I want you to know I love you, OK? I'm proud of you. That's a good thing you're giving up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life. No, you don't want that. You going to be OK. It's going to be all right. Sweetheart. I want you to know I love you. OK? I'm proud of you. That's a good thing you're giving up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life. No, you don't want that. You going to be OK. I thought the same thing, you know, I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me; but look at me now. I'm still working and everything is OK.
Tuff: They are coming. They are coming. So just hold on, Michael. Go ahead and lay down. Go ahead and lay down. Don't put your phone -- OK. You just got your phone? OK. That's fine. Tell them to come on. Come on. OK. He just got his phone. That's all he got is his phone.
Tuff: (to entering officers) It's just him. OK. It's just him.
Tuff: (to dispatcher) Hello?
Tuff: Let me tell you something, baby, nothing so scary in my life.
Dispatcher: Me, either. But you did great.
Tuff: Oh, Jesus. Oh God.