How to bring boys with guns back to reality

Update: there is a WhiteHouse.Gov Petition to award Antoinette Tuff the Medal of Freedom.  Please sign it.

Antoinette Tuff

On August 20, 2013, Antoinette Tuff calmly walked a heavily armed white man back to reality, persuading him to give up his weapon at the school she works at.

This is a transcript of the 911 call made to DeKalb County police by Antoinette Tuff.   Numbers in brackets mean the time code in minutes and seconds into the recording.  At the time of this writing, this YouTube post by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers the most reliable speed playback.  Another is available at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution site.

In the Stockholm syndrome, the hostages adopt the point of view and language of their captors as a coping and survival mechanism.  Observe how Antoinette Tuff uses language and her behavior to move her captor from his gun and violence oriented solution for extinguishing problems, and move him back to her world where people care for each other and care about each others problems.  This demonstrates not a mastery of negotiation and deception, but mastery of the art of life:


DISPATCHER: DeKalb Police, what is the address of your emergency?

ANTOINETTE TUFF: Yes, ma’am. I’m on Second Avenue in the school and the gentleman says to hold down the police officers-  he’s going to start shooting so tell them to back off.

DISPATCHER: OK, one moment

TUFF: Do not let anybody in the building,

HILL [in backgound]: including the polce

TUFF:  including the police. Do not let anybody in the building including the police.

DISPATCHER: Ok. stay on the line with me, ma’am. Where are you?

TUFF: I’m in the front office. [gunshot]  Oh- He just went outside and start shooting.  [gunshot] Oh can I run?

DISPATCHER: What do you…  [gunshot]  Can you get somewhere safe?

TUFF: Yes, I got to go. No, going to see me. He’s coming back, hold on. [gunshot]

DISPATCHER [1:00]: Put the phone down.

TUFF (apparently to Michael Brandon Hill) [1:08]: Ok, She said that she’s getting the police, telling them to back off for you, OK?

HILL (Background): Tell them to stop all movement.


HILL:  Tell them to stop all movement now.

TUFF:  [1:19] OK, stop all movement on the ground now. Stop all movement on the ground.

HILL: [inauble]

TUFF:   If it’s not an emergency, please, do not use the radio. If it’s not an emergency, do not use the radio.

DISPATCHER [1:37]: Are you talking to the shooter?

TUFF (to dispatcher): That’s what he’s telling me to tell them on the radio.


TUFF: What did you want me to tell her, sir?  [1:53] OK, he’s telling me put you on hold – to call the news maam.  –


[big pause- no speaking]

TUFF: [2:38]  you want me, I’m trying to find the number for Channel 2. You want know tell them –

[huge pause]

TUFF [4:30] Hello?

DISPATCHER: Yes, ma’am, yes, ma’am.

TUFF: Police, he said tell them to back up right now.


TUFF[4:42]: Ok hold on.


[huge pause]

TUFF [7:06]:  Hello?


TUFF: OK, he said to tell them to back off. He doesn’t want the kids. He wants the police  so back off and umm– what else, sir? [pause]  He said he don’t care if he die. He don’t have nothing to live for and he said he’s not mentally stable.

DISPATCHER [7:28]: OK, stay on the line with me, OK? Put the phone down if you have to but don’t put it on hold so I can’t hear.


DISPATCHER: Can you tell me where you are?

TUFF: In the front office with him. [pause]  He said send in one of your radios with an unarmed officer.


TUFF: She said OK, she’s getting ready to tell them.

HILL (in background) [8:06]: Hopefully I can talk to the police.

TUFF:  Or some way that he can talk to the police.

HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF:  He said but if they come armed he’s going to start shooting again,


TUFF:  Only one officer.


TUFF [8:25]: He said if you have to go ahead and evacuate them homes right there in the front of the building.

[big pause]

DISPATCHER [9:32]: OK, ask him is he willing to give his name?

TUFF (to HILL): She said are you willing to give your name?

TUFF [to Dipatcher]:He said no.


TUFF: He said no. He knows that if he gives his name he’s going away for a long time. He said he knows he’s going away for a long time. He’s on probation.


TUFF (10:25):   “Tell them to stand down now,” he said.

DISPATCHER: OK.  Tell him I’m giving them the instructions.

TUFF (to HILL): She said they’re giving them instructions. [pause]

TUFF (to Dispatcher): He said he should just shoot himself. [pause 11:01] He said….He said call the probation office in DeKalb County and let them know what’s going on.

DISPATCHER: OK, who are we to ask for?

TUFF [to Hill]: She said,  “Who is she asking for?”

Hill:  I don’t know [inaudible]

TUFF: He said he thinks it’s Officer Scott, but he’s not in….


[long pause]

TUFF (to HILL) [12:19]:  You want me, you want me to let them… to let her get by?  [pause]

DISPATCHER: [inaudible] …emergency

TUFF [12:32]:  Hello?

DISPATCHER: Yes… Yes I’m here.


TUFF (to HILL) [12:57:] You want me to tell her to let her come, sir? [pause] She sounds like she loves you a lot.

DISPATCHER: Are you on the phone with a relative?

TUFF: Yes. What did you say, sir? [13:37] He said he should have just went to the mental hospital instead of doing this because he’s not on his medication.


TUFF (to HILL):  Do you want me to try — I can help you. You want me to — you want to talk to them? Want me to talk to them and try to — OK, well let me talk to them and let’s see if we can work it out so you don’t have to go away with them for a long time.

HILL:It doesn’t matter.

TUFF:  No, it does matter. I can let them know you have not tried to harm me or do anything with me. But that doesn’t make any difference. You didn’t hit anybody.

HILL: [inaudible 14:12] don’t know that.

TUFF:  Ok, Let me ask you this, ma’am. He didn’t hit anybody. He just shot outside the door. If I walk out there,  If I walk out there  with him, so they won’t shoot him or anything like that. He wants to give his self up. Is that OK and they won’t shoot him?

DISPATCHER: Yes, ma’am.

TUFF: He said he wants to go to the hospital?


TUFF:  She said..

DISPATCHER:  Hold on one moment.

TUFF (to HILL)[14:34]:  She said hold on, she’s going to talk to the police officers and I’ll go out there with you. [pause] Well, don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years. But — yes do you. I mean I’m sitting here with you and talking to.. talking to you about it. I got a son that’s multiple disabled. [pause] [5:11] Can I speak to her? Let me talk to her and let her know that I’m going to go with you. [pause]  [15:36] You want me to talk to her? No, doesn’t, baby. This is all going to be well. The lady is going to talk to the police. OK. OK, hold on a second, OK?

DISPATCHER: Don’t hang up the phone.

TUFF: OK, hold on. He wants me to go over to the intercom. Hold on for me. OK, wait a minute. Can you talk to the police and let them know I’m going to walk out there with him and he wants to give himself up?

DISPATCHER: I am. Let me get an OK from them, okay?

TUFF: And you let me know what we need to do. He wants me to go on intercom and let everybody know he’s sorry. OK?


TUFF [in background apparently to HILL] :  It’s ok, we’ll get on the intercom and [inaudible]  [16:29 (apparently on intercom)]  Everybody, this is, this is still in the continuous lockdown. The [inauble] wants you to know that he is sorry, that he didn’t want to harm anybody, [inaudible] and that everyone should stay in place until the lock down is over with.

TUFF [sill in background- 16:52]  Ok, do you want to leave it right here?

TUFF: Ma’am?

DISPATCHER: Yes, ma’am.

TUFF: OK, he’s going to come on now, but he wants to know what do you want him to do with the gun?


TUFF: Or you want to send a police officer in and he said he’ll be on the ground with his hands behind his back and I’ll take the gun from him and put it on the other side over by me.

DISPATCHER: OK, one moment.

TUFF (to HILL): OK. Here, put that over here so they won’t see it. OK, put it all up there, OK.

DISPATCHER: He’s put the weapons down?

TUFF: Yeah. Hold on before you come. He’s putting everything down. He’s going to get on the floor so tell them to hold on a minute. So let him get everything together. He’s getting it all together. OK. Tell me when you ready and I’ll tell them to come on in. He wants to drink his bottle of water. Let him get it together.

OK, did you need to call somebody, talk to somebody for you? OK, we’re not going to hate you, baby. It’s a good thing you’ve given up. We’re not going to hate you.

DISPATCHER [18:21]: Ma’am, you’re doing a great job.

TUFF: So let’s do it before the helicopters and stuff like that come. You hear them? OK. So you want to go ahead and want me to tell them to come on in now? OK, he’s getting everything out of his pockets now. OK, he said the gun may come back and say it’s stolen. It’s not. He knows the story about the gun and he’ll let you all know that. Do you all want him to take his belt off?

DISPATCHER: That’s fine, just take all his weapons off.

TUFF: She said that’s fine, just take all your weapons off. He said he don’t have no more weapons. He’s on the ground now his hand behind his back. Tell the officers don’t come in shooting anything so they can come on in and I’ll buzz them in.


TUFF: So hold on, just sit right there, I’ll buzz them in, so you’ll know when they’re coming, OK? OK. So just stay there calm. Don’t worry about it. I’ll sit right here so they’ll see you didn’t try to harm me, OK? OK.

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, OK, and I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing you’ve given up and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life. [HILL: (inaudible)]   No, you don’t want that. You’re going to be OK. I thought the same thing. You know, I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me?  But look at me now. I’m still working and everything is OK.

HILL: [inaudible] name is Michael Hill]

TUFF [12:08]: Your name is Michael what? Michael Hill? When the what is not in the harbor? The people came from in the harbor and planted a gun? The drum from harbor? OK, so you came with the kid that played the drums for the inner harbor? So you were actually in there doing all of that with them? Oh how awesome. That means I’ve seen you before then. OK, you all play them drums and stuff real good. Ok he said  they can come on in now. He needs to go to the hospital.


TUFF [21:06]: And he doesn’t have any weapons on him or anything like that. He’s laying on the floor, and he doesn’t have any weapons and he’s got everything out of his pocket.  There’s, there’s  no.. The only thing he has on is his belt. Everything is out of his pockets.  Everything is  sitting on the counter so all we need to do is they can come and buzz them in so he’ll know they’re here and everything and then they can come on in and get him and take him to the hospital.

DISPATCHER: OK, one moment.


HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF: Yes, She said she’s going to let them know. She’s talking to them now  to let them know to come on in and to take you to the hospital. OK?

HILL: [inadible] go out and..

TUFF: No, you stay right there. You’re fine. You said you want him to go out there?  with his hands up?

DISPATCHER: Stay right where he is.

TUFF: She said stay right where you are. Guess wh..

HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF:Ahh.. He wants to know if he can get some of his water right quick… Yes Mic.. Yes you said Michael Hill, right?

Hill: [inaudible]

TUFF: OK. Guess what, Michael, my last name is Hill too. My mom was a Hill.

HILL[22:13]: What are they waiting for?

TUFF: He said, what are you all waiting for? What is taking so long to come on?


TUFF:She said she is getting to them now. They’re coming. [pause] They’re coming. So just hold on Michael. Just go ahead and lay down. Don’t put your phone –

HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF- OK, you just got your phon?. OK, that’s fine. Tell them to come on. Come on. OK, he just got his phone. That’s all he got is his phone..

POLICE (multiple voices): [22:49], [inaudible] Stay down on the floor.  Don’t move.  Do not move. On the ground..

TUFF:  It’s just him. OK, just him.

POLICE: [multiple inaudibles] We got him. We got him.

TUFF [23:03]: Hello?  I’m going to tell you something, baby: I’ve never been so scared in all the days in my life,

DISPATCHER: Me either, but you did great.

TUFF: Ooo, Jesus!

Dispatcher: You did great.

TUFF: [crying]  Oh, God!  [pause] [apparently to an officer:] Ok, Oh I’m fine.

DISPATCHER: Mrs Hill Ms Hill you did great.

TUFF [talking over- apparently to an officer]: aint nobody in [inaudible].. go right ahead…Ain’t nobody in there.

DISPATCHER: OK Hold on, Hold on.

[background- multiple voices, officers, TUFF,]

TUFF [on phone]:  Ok ma’am.


TUFF: OK bye bye.

DISPATCHER: All right you have a great one.

TUFF: You too. Bye bye.



There is much to these details.  The story is important because it says something not just about guns and not just about the medicaid payments for mental health drugs and the affect of medicaid cuts on public safety.  (Georgia could get some relief in this regard, but is refusing to participate in Obamacare and so shall not be able to take advantage of additional Medicaid federal dollars that participation provides.

More largely, Tuff demonstrates a different path for our political times: Here we have an example of an injured side lashing out, someone who sees a solution and a way to reestablish status through raw application of power.  In Tuff, we see another who attempts conflict resolution through a path of engaging the other, attempting to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective, and getting the injured one to understand that there is a common bond between them.

As for the language of violent solutions to problems, the accounts of events by right wing sources have succeeded in constructing an alternate reality that many members of our society live within.   Instead of treating people with mental disabilities, in the 80s, Reagan portrayed them as moochers and threw them out onto the street.  Instead of paying for medications, we accept the cost of the lunatics with guns- Tuscon, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown- as in this case, these all involved troubled young men with diagnosed mental disabilities and warnings from professionals about their violent tendencies.  In the alternate reality of the right, there is the simple stories of black hats and white hats- in cops and robbers you just shoot the bad guy and the problem goes away.

The NRA version of reality is that you destroy that damaged brain with a bullet.  The other way is to embrace the fact that this solution is inapplicable to most social problems.  You need to alter people’s minds, and the way you do that is through a reverse form of the Stockholm syndrome.  It’s what happens when the hostage does not adopt the captors reality, but instead wins the captor over to join her construction of reality.

That’s what Antoinette Tuff did as she rapidly deconstructed the reality of a young crazy white boy with 500 rounds of ammo and an assault weapon that could easily kill hundreds in the space of minutes.   Her power was far more remarkable.  In barely 20 minutes she went from using language like “sir”, “gentleman” and submission and had established authority as a mother referring to him as baby, that she loved him, and that she was proud of him for laying down his weapon and making a bad situation right again.

This is the talking cure. We have to talk our relatives and neighbors out of their separate, FOX constructed reality.

Antoinette Tuff used emotions of empathy rather than confrontation. There is an unreported story here. If you carefully examine the transcript,  you will find that there is another woman who was perhaps more crucial in talking Michael Brandon Hill out of his state of mind. This was the woman talking on the cell phone to Hill who Tuff is heard to say “She sounds like she loves you a lot.” [@12:57] It was someone close, but who?

As a political metaphor, how would the language of raw power interpret the event? The crass NRA response will likely be: “Tuff could have settled this much more decisively if she had been armed.” This story provides such a vivid contrast for such amygdala dominated cognition versus solution evaluations activated through empathy. There have been some progress discovering some of the higher level neurological function for empathy (more on that here).

But for a real glimpse at how language molds reality, look at the specifics of the language that Tuff engaged in- using terms of respect, “gentleman”, “sir”, and using the language of service, carrying out his instructions faithfully, verifying she understands his desires, “You want me to …”, and offering to serve in ways he didn’t ask: “I can let them know you have not tried to harm me”. What does this language do? It establishes a rapport with the person in power. After entering a bridge to his space, she invites him into hers- showing him he is living in a common space.

Well, don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years….

….She sounds like she loves you a lot.

Finally she uses those ties to reinforce his behavior at the denouement:

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, OK, and I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing you’ve given up and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.

Mrs. Tuff was brilliant at how she moved Hill rapidly from one reality into another.  Contrary to school system officials eager to take credit for their woefully underpaid workers, it is a skill you can’t teach in a few communications classes.  It is always great honor to meet such magnificent individuals.

Often they do not appreciate how extraordinary they are.


About John JMesserly

Mostly harmless

Posted on 2013-08-23, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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