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Employee honored for heroism in school shooting

A Decatur church honored bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff for helping avert a tragedy during the McNair school shooting.
A Decatur church honored bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff for helping avert a tragedy during the McNair school shooting.
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Updated: 8/26/2013 5:36 pm
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. -- A school bookkeeper is being honored for her heroic actions during a standoff and shooting last week at a DeKalb County school.

Channel 2's Steve Gehlbach went to Sunday service at The Way The Truth and The Life Christian Center on Miller Street in Decatur, where Antoinette Tuff received a proclamation. Police said her calm demeanor and kind approach helped end the frightening ordeal without injuries at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy.

Tuff was taken hostage Tuesday by Michael Brandon Hill, a 20-year-old man with a history of mental health issues. Hill went to the school armed with an AK-47-style rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition, police said.

Tuff called Channel 2 Action News to report that there was a shooter in the school. She told a Channel 2 Action News assignment desk editor that the gunman asked her to call the station and police.

"All the time of doing this I never experienced anything like this," said assignment editor Lacey LeCroy. "It didn't take long to know that this was serious."

The McNair elementary office worker told LeCroy that the gunman wanted Channel 2 Action News to "start filming as police die."

The gunman then told the woman that he wanted "police to back up." Shots could be heard over the call. Eventually the woman told LeCroy "they got him."

Last week, Channel 2's Jovita Moore spoke exclusively to Tuff and said for nearly an hour (Tuff) talked to Hill about her life and his own, all the while saving the lives of many others.

"The clips that go into the gun … he sat there right in front of me in the office and began to load them with bullets," Tuff told Moore.

"Antoinette, this whole time, what are you thinking?" Moore asked Tuff.

"I just started praying for him. I just started talking to him and allowing him to know some of the stories and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be OK. And then let him know that he could just give himself up," Tuff said.

"Did you tell him to put the guns down?" Moore asked.

"I did. I told him to put them on the table, empty his pockets. He had me actually get on the intercom and tell everybody he was sorry too. But I told them, 'He was sorry, but do not come out of their rooms," Tuff said.

"You're the hero today," Moore told Tuff.

"I give it all to God, I'm not the hero. I was terrified," Tuff said.

Tuff said her pastor has recently talked about "anchoring" in the Lord. She said she just thought about her faith in God the entire time she was facing the gunman. She also thought about her family.

Several shots were fired in the front office area before the suspect was taken into custody. Police then went classroom to classroom, knocking on doors and alerting teachers and students there was an intruder. Police were happy to report that no one was harmed in the incident.

Authorities said Hill is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Police declined to discuss what he told them when questioned.

"We have to make a reasonable assumption he was there to do harm to someone," DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander said.

The DeKalb County Public Defender's office said in a statement that it was representing Hill, calling him "a young man with a long history of mental health issues."

"Mr. Hill is being represented by members of our mental health division and he has decided to waive his first appearance today," the statement said. "We are all very thankful that no one was hurt in this incident and that all of the children are safe."

According to the Associated Press, one of the office' attorneys, Claudia Saari, wrote in an email that a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 5.

Meanwhile, Sunday's recognition was part of a joyous occasion as the congregation is celebrating an outcome that could have ended tragically.
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