(Photo: Bethany House)
Antoinette Tuff has been showered with praise from everyone from the U.S. president to her Georgia congressman for her compassion and bravery in helping to prevent a 20-year-old gunman from harming elementary school students, their teachers and himself in a riveting confrontation partly captured on tape. Now, the Christian mother is sharing her story of hope and resilience, and her conviction that God had prepared her for a "moment of divine purpose."
Prepared for a Purpose: An Inspiring True Story of Faith, Courage, and Compassion in Crisis, available for purchase beginning Jan. 21, 2014, recounts how Tuff convinced gunman Michael Brandon Hill to stay with her in the front office at McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., where she worked as the school's bookkeeper. Hill, who revealed during the exchange that he was suicidal, had entered the grade school on Aug. 20 armed with an AK-47 and about 500 rounds of ammunition. He barricaded himself in Tuff's office for nearly an hour, at one point shooting on police outside the school and discharging a single bullet inside the office. Tuff eventually convinced Hill to surrender, and no one was hurt in the ordeal.
"As the nation faced yet another Sandy Hook story of tragedy, one woman rewrote the ending," reads a description of Prepared for a Purpose from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group. "Yet the story doesn't start with those first steps Michael Hill took into that Atlanta elementary school. 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."
Indeed what stood out from Tuff's exchange with Hill, half of which was captured on audio when the woman was ordered by him to call 911, was how the Christian mother of two seemed to genuinely identify with the gunman, who reportedly has a long history of mental illness.
While Tuff empathized with Hill by revealing her own challenges with attempted suicide due to a divorce from "the only man [she has] ever known" and being the mother of a disabled child, she also told Hill that she loved him and was proud of him for choosing to surrender to the authorities.
"It's going to be all right, sweetheart," Tuff told Hill, according to 911 recordings. "I just want you to know that I love you though, OK? And I'm proud of you. It's a good thing that you've just given up. Don't worry about it. We all go through something in life."
When asked during subsequent media interviews for her thoughts on why Hill was so compliant, Tuff said, "I have no idea. That was nobody but God. I can't even put that on myself. I was praying hard."
Tuff, who attends The Way The Truth and The Life Christian Center, Inc., in Decatur, also gave credit to her pastor, Apostle Ulysses Tuff, the uncle of the man to whom had previously been married.
"My pastor, he just started this teaching on anchoring, and how you anchor yourself in the Lord," explained Tuff. "I just sat there and started praying. I just remembered the teaching and how he taught us (church members) how to consult people when they're bereaving and all that."
Tuff has since been applauded by President Barack Obama, who personally called her during an appearance on CNN. In addition to being named "Atlantan of the Year," U.S. State Rep. Hank Johnson, who represents Georgia' Fourth Congressional District, proclaimed Aug. 25, 2013, as "Ms. Antoinette Tuff Day." The proclamation was "to recognize a virtuous woman of God whose actions, thinking and spirit blessed the lives of the children, parents, teachers and support staff of not only the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, but the hearts of citizens across America..."
"This is more than just the amazing account of tragedy averted," reads the description of Prepared for a Purpose. "It's the evidence of what we can do when we allow ourselves to be used by God. And it's a story of how God uses all of our life experiences — the good and the bad — to prepare us for our own moment of divine purpose."