Bleeding hearts lead to bleeding bodies: learning the wrong lesson from Decatur

Michael Brandon Hill walked into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA earlier this week armed with a Romanian semi-automatic rifle, several magazines, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition shoved into a backpack. While the school has a door system that requires people to be “buzzed” in, the school’s meager security failed. Hill simply followed someone else into the building.


Once inside, Hill ran into Antoinette Tuff in the school’s main office, and their interaction has become a minor legend:

The school staffer who works in the front office at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy just of outside Atlanta, Ga., became a hero when she calmly and compassionately persuaded 20-year-old gunman Michael Brandon Hill to lay down his AK-47 style assault rifle. 911 tapes reveal that Tuff opened up to Hill about her life story, offered reassurance, and even told him at one point that she loved him.

Her instincts were spot on, and incredibly brave. But can they–and should they–be taught to every faculty member as part of an effort to improve school safety?

A number of professionals say yes.

“She did all the things we try to teach negotiators,” said Clint van Zandt, former FBI profiler and hostage negotiator, on NewsNation Thursday. “She was a great ‘go-between,’ she identified with the aggressor, she offered help, she minimized what he had done, she helped develop a surrender ritual, she told him what to expect, and told the police what to expect, she offered love, said she was proud of him, she offered him a positive future–every one of those things is something we spend weeks teaching negotiators, and this lady did it intuitively.”

It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it? Intuition and kind words soothed a dangerous and deranged man. Journalists bringing you this story want you to believe this came down to a peaceful resolution, so please gloss over the half-dozen poorly-aimed shots Hill fired at the police, along with the equally poorly-aimed police return fire into the school that no one seems to want to talk about.


Yes, Antoinette Tuff has unusual composure, but she is no hero. She did not involve herself in this situation willingly. Tuff was placed in a difficult, defenseless position due to the school’s failed security measures—the same inadequate security measures common in schools around the country—where all she had to defend herself was words.

Long after Sandy Hook, McNair’s adminstrators, like those of most schools, simply refused to get serious about student safety. That is the true story here, the story that no one wants to talk about.

Luckily, Michael Brandon Hill wasn’t intent on killing anyone. His invasion of the school and his grandstanding for the media was a classic cry for help. Tuff was merely his foil, and his excuse to surrender.

That’s the truth.

Does anyone think Principal Dawn Hochsprung at Sandy Hook Elementary was somehow less educated, compassionate, or well-trained than a low-level school staffer like Tuff? Absolutely not.

The difference is that Adam Lanza wanted to be a mass murderer, and no amount of “magical empathy” is going to stop a full metal-jacketed bullet traveling at 3,100 feet per second.

The only reason Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy didn’t become a bloodbath is because the suspect didn’t really want to kill anyone. Period.


The fake “buzz-in” security on a glass front door failed.

Police, as usual, were far, far away.

There was nothing that saved hill’s intrusion from becoming another massacre other than the simply fact that the shooter didn’t have any serious interest in killing.

Empathy doesn’t stop bullets.

It’s time for adults to stop pretending otherwise, and start realizing that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun who intends to use it is a good guy with a gun that is better trained, and sometimes just a little lucky.

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