Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
Antoinette Tuff had not lacked hardships in her life. As a child, she endured homelessness and abandonment by her parents. In adulthood, she attempted suicide after learning that her husband was leaving her for another woman. But what Tuff didn’t realize until August 20, 2013, is that her pain had prepared her for a purpose – a purpose that allowed her to save the lives of hundreds of children and become a channel of God’s grace to a mentally disturbed young man.
In 2018, Tuff’s story was dramatized in the Christopher Award-winning TV movie “Faith Under Fire.” She also shared her story in the memoir “Prepared For a Purpose,” so she joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” to discuss the events that changed her life.
Tuff began August 20th like any other day: with prayer. But despite her faith, she wasn’t in the best place emotionally speaking as she headed to her bookkeeping job at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, that morning. Two days prior, Tuff had attempted suicide out of despair about the end of her marriage. The husband with whom she had raised two children, including a son with multiple disabilities, blindsided her by having an affair and leaving her in 2012.
While Tuff helped out in the school’s front office, a parent leaving the office held open the door for a young man. That young man was Michael Hill, who was mentally ill, off his medication, and carrying an AK-47 and over 500 rounds of ammunition in his shoulder bag and backpack. When he took the weapon out in front of Tuff, Hill said, “We are all going to die today.”
Though shocked and scared, Tuff noted that he was suicidal. And though he was threatening her life, she never simply saw him as a gunman. Tuff explained, “I saw him as 20-year-old young man that was younger than my children, and saying to me that he hadn’t taken his medicine, and that he should just kill himself…I knew that I needed to help save his life. I was saying to myself…‘God, what do I say? Every word that proceeds out of my mouth right now is life or death…So give me the words to say that this young man may be able to see You in the process of it all.’”
There were moments when Tuff could have escaped, but she chose not to because she realized that might cost the lives of the school’s 800 children and staff. She began revealing to Hill the troubles she had endured, including her suicide attempts and the fact that her son Derrick was born with disabilities that affected his sight, hearing, and ability to walk. Yet Derrick had faced those challenges and become a successful husband and father. Tuff wanted to convey to Hill that he, too, could overcome his hardships and succeed in life. Her message about God’s love, self-empowerment, and ending this standoff without any bloodshed finally got through to him. He surrendered to police without a single person being injured or killed.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note SEEKING GOD’S PEACE IN TROUBLED TIMES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org