By Greg Botelho and Vivian Kuo, CNN
Atlanta (CNN) — A man slips behind someone else into a packed elementary school with an AK-47-type weapon. He goes into the office and shoots at the ground, then darts between there and outside to fire at approaching police.
So what do you do?
If you’re Antoinette Tuff, who works in the front office at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy just outside Atlanta, you don’t run. You talk. You divulge your personal struggles to the gunman, you tell him you love him, you even proactively offer to walk outside with him to surrender so police won’t shoot.
And then the nightmare ends — with the suspect, later identified as Michael Brandon Hill, taken into custody and no one inside or outside the Decatur school even hurt, despite the gunfire.
“Let me tell you something, babe,” Tuff tells the dispatcher at the end of the dramatic 911 call, obtained by CNN affiliate WXIA, that recounts her minutes of valor and terror. “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life. Oh, Jesus.”
This brief outburst of emotion, moments after police entered the school Tuesday, was in stark contrast to her cool, calm demeanor as heard earlier on that 911 call.
As a go-between, she relayed his demands that police refrain from using their radios and “stop all movement,” or else the suspect would shoot. By the end — with police themselves having never directly talked to him — Tuff and the gunman were talking about where he would put his weapon, how he’d empty his pockets and where he’d lie down before authorities could get him.
We didn’t think anything of it – but it was central Illinois, and maybe that made a difference.
Fast forward to today, and here I am heading three hours down the highway from Atlanta to Wilcox County, Ga., where students there are holding their first integrated prom.
We are far from the city, and deep into the land of long, dry soybean fields with lonely tractors at their center. There are no stoplights. Every home I see looks weathered in that country way. And we’re about to pull into a long, gravel driveway to meet a few of the students who’ve decided it was time that black and white students share the same prom.
Wilcox County High is a small high school in the country. We tried to get the superintendant to agree to an interview and he declined. He was very nice about it, and seemed very supportive of the students putting on the integrated prom, but he was clearly negotiating politics.