Weber Schools employees learn from woman who prevented a school shooting

Sunday , June 24, 2018 - 5:00 AM

OGDEN — Antoinette Tuff, then a bookkeeper at a school in Georgia, was already having a bad week when a 20-year-old man came into the school office with an AK-47.

The man, Michael Hill, had threatened to kill everyone that day. She convinced him to drop his gun and surrender.

She said she used three things to prevent a school shooting: control, confidence and compassion. And she wants other teachers and school administrators to use them every day.

Tuff talked to more than 20 Weber School District employees Friday morning about her story and gave them tips on how to deal with students and others in the school district. She told them to not give up. She also talked about her book, “Prepared for a Purpose: The Inspiring True Story of How One Woman Saved an Atlanta School Under Siege,” and about her nonprofit, Kids on the Move for Success.

“This (summer) is the time now that, no matter what’s going on in your life, you are trying to figure (things) out,” Tuff said. “You have some (teachers) that are going to return, and you have some that are not going to return, but who comes back and say that if you get out to fight there is one child over here that is waiting on you to be able to save them.”

When it all happened

Tuff’s life changed on Aug. 20, 2013. But, before that day, things weren’t going smoothly.

A couple of days before everything happened, on Aug. 18, Tuff was suicidal. Her husband of 33 years decided to leave for another woman.

Tuff had two kids and was heartbroken. She wanted to kill herself, so she tried to cross a busy street in the Atlanta Metro area hoping that a car or a truck could hit her. Every single car either stopped or swerved to avoid killing her.

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Then, on Aug. 20, the same day she faced the gunman, the bank called her telling her she had to pay $14,000 in seven days.

“All of that put me late to relieve the secretary for lunch but put me right on time to receive the gunman when he walked in the door,” Tuff recalled.

Hill walked into the office of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, with an AK-47 and over 500 rounds of ammunition. He told Tuff he wanted to kill himself and kill others.

“This young man just told me we all are going to die today including him,” Tuff said. “For me it was like, ‘OK. What do I do with this?’” Tuff said. “It was one of those moments when you say, ‘Don’t nobody call … I don’t need no interruption.’ I was like, ‘God, what do I do right now? How do I do this?’”

So she talked to the gunman and convinced him to surrender. She even told him she loved him and was proud of him. She chose to be compassionate.

“Just know that your very voice, your very presence, can save the next life,” Tuff said.

Putting Tuff’s tips in practice

Lori Rasmussen, Weber School District assistant superintendent, said the school district is focusing on looking at strategies to connect with students, teachers and parents.

“You really need to connect with kids,” Rasmussen said. “That’s been a focus of our district to really connect with the staff and everybody because, really, school is more than just the academics.”

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Sandy Lambert is the secretary at the district’s student services department. She said her job requires her to talk to parents and students on a daily basis.

Tuff’s words, Lambert said, will help her do her job better as she believes she will now be more aware of all of her interactions.

“The whole time I was listening to her I was thinking, “Oh, I need to be more outward instead of self-focused and then you a do a lot more good in the world,” Lambert said. “You can have an impact on somebody. Maybe you connecting with them is going to make a difference for them.”

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at smartinezbeltran@standard.net or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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