Antoinette Tuff is the subject of tonight’s new Lifetime movie, Faith Under Fire. Tuff became a household name in 2013 when she stopped a school shooting from escalating.
Tuff worked as the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia. She was in the front office when Michael Hill, a young man with a history of mental illness snuck in. Hill was armed with an AK-47 and over 500 rounds of ammunition.
As the school went into lockdown, Tuff was left alone with Hill, who continually threatened to kill everyone. Tuff eventually convinced Hill to surrender by using her life’s struggles to connect with him. Tuff says that her faith in God guided her through tough moments of her life and prepared her for that day.
Read on for what you need to know about Antoinette Tuff.
1. She Prevented an Elementary School Shooting
On Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at about 1 p.m., Michael Brandon Hill walked into Ronald E. McNair Discover Learning Academy with enough ammunition to kill hundreds of people. The potential massacre ended with nobody hurt after Hill surrendered peacefully to the police.
Hill never made it past the front office in the school. There, he held Antoinette Tuff until police came in to get him. During that time, Tuff stayed on the phone with a 911 dispatcher in order to communicate with police. Tuff spent time talking to Hill, telling him that she loved him.
“I didn’t know much about him,” Tuff told ABC News. “I didn’t know his name but I did love him and it was scary because I knew at that moment that he was ready to take my life along with his, and if I didn’t say the right thing, then we all would be dead.”
During her time in the front office with Hill, Tuff told him about her life struggles: how her marriage had fallen apart after over 30 years and her struggles with opening her own business. She convinced Hill to put his weapons aside and allow the police come in to take him to the hospital, since he’d told her that he had not been taking some of the medication he needed to and that he was not mentally stable.
2. President Obama Praised her for her Bravery
After the incident in the school, Tuff’s performance and bravery were praised by many. The police chief, an FBI hostage negotiator and many news reporters applauded her performance on what was probably the most stressful day of her life.
DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander was on the scene at the time of the shooting.
“She was in there, she was able to talk him down,” Alexander said to NBC news. “She’s a real hero in all this.”
President Obama also took time out of his day to call Tuff directly and thank her for her heroism. In an interview with CNN, Tuff said that her call with President Obama was “the best voice that I could ever hear.” During the call, she told him that she learned from the best and that he was the best President in the world. He thanked her and told her that he and his family were very proud of what she did at the school.
“Here’s somebody who’s not just courage,” he told CNN, “and not just cool under pressure, but also had enough heart that somehow she could convince somebody that was really troubled that she cared about him.”
3. Tuff Said she Would Like to Visit the Shooter
After the incident at the school, Tuff told CNN that she would like to visit Hill, saying that he was a hurting soul who she would like to help.
“We all go through something,” Tuff said, “and I believe that God gives us a purpose in life.”
She later said that she believes she was meant to be in that place at that time; she was originally scheduled to be off work that day, but had to come in. She was also up front at the front desk by coincidence because she’d been delayed from going back to her desk when she originally wanted to.
“If somebody would have told me that I was going to be doing that that day, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she told CNN. “God has a way of showing you what’s really in you.”
4. She is Now a Motivational Speaker
According to her website, Tuff is now an author and motivational speaker. As a speaker, Antionette shares her “Tuff Tactics,” her everyday crisis management techniques that she says can apply to a large variety of situations whether they are big or small.
Audience members learn about how stressful incidents in their everyday life can be leveraged as an asset when dealing with difficult interpersonal relationships, heated customer interactions or even if they find a gun pointed in their direction.
Her crisis management presentation is called “Conversation in the Crosshairs” and is designed to use both structured crisis situations and relationship training to be utilized by security, human resources and legal teams.
5. She Released an Autobiography
Tuff’s autobiography, “Prepared for a Purpose” was released in 2014 and can be bought on Amazon. The book follows the journey Tuff took through life, not starting with those moments where she was face-to-face with a shooter in the school. According to the back cover, it starts long before that.
It starts with Antoinette Tuff, a woman who faced her own pain, hurt, and rejection, yet held onto grace, faith, and hope. A hope that anchored her in the most high-stakes moments, a grace that allowed her to empathize with a hurting young man, and a faith that gave her the courage to love him back from the brink.
The autobiography has a rating of 4.5/5 stars on Amazon.com with 164 customer reviews.