Antoinette Tuff went to her job at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy last week thinking it was going to be just another day. That lasted until Michael Hill walked into the school carrying an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition. Armed and telling her to call police and reporters so everyone could bear witness to the coming slaughter, he said he didn’t have any reason to live. Said no one loved him. One man with a weapon, nothing to lose, and a wish to die, standing in a school containing hundreds of children.
Yet another example of just how awful we’ve become. That’s what I thought at first. Close behind that was a firm desire to see Michael Hill strung up and every parents of every child in that school given a baseball bat and one free shot. It would have been Newtown all over again. Or Virginia Tech. Or Columbine. Or any number of that long string of school shootings that stretch back too far and contain too much senseless death.
But it didn’t happen that way. Antoinette Tuff was there.
She was the one who stopped Michael Hill, who distracted him long enough for the students to be evacuated. And who, as Hill exchanged gunfire with police, began to pray. For herself, of course. But also for the man who was going to kill her.
“I give it all to God,” she said after. “I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”
She convinced Hill to stand down and save his own life not by threatening him, but talking to him. Antoinette told the story of her own life to calm Hill down, sharing how her separation from her husband had left her feeling lonely and broken.
She told him not to surrender to despair.
Then she told him she loved him.
That’s right. Antoinette Tuff told this monster, this would-be mass murderer, that she loved him. And she said God loved him, too.
Michael Hill surrendered to police not long after. No one died that day.
I thought about Antoinette Hill all week. Thought about what almost happened and what had happened too many times before. I thought about what she said to Michael Hill when news broke of the Australian student shot by three young men who were simply bored and decided to kill someone. (Or because it was a gang initiation; reports vary, but does it really matter?)
I don’t know about you, but anger is my first reaction when I hear stories like that. Maybe it’s the redneck in me, or the father. Maybe it’s the decency coming through in the wrong way. I don’t know. All I know is it’s anger. Every time. It’s rage not only against the people who perpetrate such horrible acts, it’s a rage against the society that creates them and the God who lets this sort of thing happen. We’ve lost our way as a country. There’s a rot deep in our collective heart, and it’s spreading.
But I needed Antoinette Tuff to remind me that anger isn’t the way to fight that rot. Faith is. Love is. What will fix this country isn’t a fist, it’s an open hand.
“Our weapons are not carnal, they are spiritual.” So said Paul to the Corinthians.
Which means our fight isn’t against people. It’s against the heart.