Antoinette Tuff talked 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill into surrendering after a lockdown at McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday. Hill went to the school with a rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition, police said.
During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday, Tuff said President Obama called her while she sat in the network’s makeup room. She described the conversation as “awesome.” She also met DeKalb County emergency dispatcher Kendra McCray, who stayed on the phone with her as she reassured Hill that surrendering peacefully was the right thing to do.
Tuff told Cooper that she’d like to visit Hill and speak with him again.
“He’s a hurting soul, and so if there’s any kind of way I can help him and allow him to get on the right path – we all go through something,” she said.
On a recording of a 911 call released Wednesday, Tuff can be heard relaying messages from Hill to DeKalb County emergency dispatchers before convincing him to surrender. She tells the dispatcher that Hill said he wasn’t there to hurt the children but wanted to talk to an unarmed officer.
“He said, ‘Call the probation office in DeKalb County and let them know what’s going on,’” Tuff is heard telling the dispatcher. “He said he should have just went to the mental hospital instead of doing this, because he’s not on his medication.”
No one was injured, but police said Hill shot into the floor and exchanged gunfire with officers who had surrounded the school.
On the 911 call, Tuff tells Hill about her own struggles, including raising a disabled child and losing her husband. She reassured Hill by saying he didn’t hurt anyone, hadn’t harmed her and could still surrender peacefully.
“We’re not gonna hate you, baby. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up,” Tuff said after having Hill put his weapons and ammunition on the counter. Tuff told Hill she loves him and will pray for him.
Before he surrendered, Tuff took to the school’s public address system to say Hill was sorry for what he’d done and didn’t want to hurt anyone.
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.
The DeKalb County public defender’s office said it was representing Hill, calling him “a young man with a long history of mental health issues.”
Tim Hill, the suspect’s brother, told CNN’s Piers Morgan on Thursday night that his brother was like a normal kid growing up, but began to change as a teen.
“Everything just started changing after doctors started messing with his medicines here and there, and changing them up and putting him on a different one and institutionalizing him multiple times to correct his medicine,” Tim Hill said.
Police said Hill got the gun from an acquaintance, but it’s not clear if he stole it or had permission to take it. His motive is still unclear.
Law enforcement officers praised Tuff for helping to avert a potential tragedy.
“She was a real ally,” Alexander said. “She was a real hero in all of this. She just did a stellar job. She was cool, she was calm, very collected in all of this, maintained her wherewithal.”
Tuff told WSB-TV in Atlanta that she tried to keep Hill talking to prevent him from walking into the hallway or through the school building.
“He had a look on him that he was willing to kill — matter of fact he said it. He said that he didn’t have any reason to live and that he knew he was going to die today,” Tuff said.
Hill was arrested in mid-March for making terroristic threats in Henry County, DeKalb and Henry County sheriff’s officials have said. He was sentenced to probation.
A woman who said she served as a mother-like figure to him said he didn’t seem to have any friends and rarely talked about his family or past during the months he lived with her and her husband several years ago.
He was quiet and didn’t display anger or violent tendencies, said Natasha Knotts, the woman who took him in after he started coming to the small church where her husband is pastor and she is an assistant pastor.
Knotts told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Hill lived with them for about six months in his late teens.
“He was part of our family,” Knotts said, though they were not related. She said her family was aware that “he had a mental disorder” before he moved in.
Hill told her that his birth mother was dead and that he didn’t know his father. He also has brothers.
Knotts was shocked when she realized Hill had been taken into custody.
“This is something that’s totally out of his character. This is not him. This is not the Mike that I know. For anyone that knew Mike, this was a total devastation,” she said in an interview at her home in Lithonia, Ga.
She kept in touch after he moved out and said he’d recently been living with another couple who belonged to the church. Knotts last saw Hill about a month ago and he seemed fine.
Knotts said Hill called her sister Tuesday afternoon before the shooting to thank the family for all they had done for him and said he had a rifle. He did not say what he was planning to do.
Police released an undated photo of Hill posing with an assault rifle they believe is the one used Tuesday.
Knotts said she thinks Hill’s actions were a plea for help.
“Unfortunately,” she said, “he didn’t know a better way to get it.”