"I just want you to know I love you…."
Antoinette Tuff, McNair Elementary School bookkeeper, to Michael Brandon Hill, gunman armed with 500 rounds of ammunition.
Listening to local news coverage is my custom when driving through Atlanta; up-to-date traffic reports could save me hours if I'm paying attention.
Tuesday was a little different, though; instead of traffic reports I was held captive by breaking coverage of an all-too familiar scene at one of Atlanta's elementary school–a gunman holding children and faculty hostage.
Maybe you've heard about this by now; the story has certainly splattered across national news portals. But just in case you haven't, it's a story worthy of celebrating:
the triumph of love over hate.
Mentally ill Michael Hill makes his way into the school, armed to the hilt, off medication and ready to kill, and Antoinette Tuff talks him off the ledge.
Her 9-1-1- call, broadcast to the world now, invites us to hear how an ordinary woman is anything but ordinary.
The hero in Antoinette Tuff is revealed by what happens next, from the beginning of the stand off to its peaceful conclusion.
She simply talked to the gunman, human to human.
At first, panic wavering her voice, she speaks to accommodate his wishes, parroting to 9-1-1-operator Kendra McCray exactly what he tells her.
But all the while she's talking, she's l i s t e n i n g, and in so doing, diffuses a timebomb.
Her words accomplish what practiced, tactical experts are trained to do.
Antoinette Tuff is also trained for combat, but when this started, she thought it was just another drill.
She treats him respectfully, because in those tense moments, he had authority over her.
She never compromises who she is in her reaction to him.
She lets him tell his story in bits and pieces and shares her own with him.
She relates to him. She validates his illness.
She assures him.
She makes room for forgiveness, she accepts who he is, how he is.
Antoinette Tuff defaulted to what she had been trained to do, but I think more decisively, she responded in a manner consistent with who she's been becoming over a lifetime.
She speaks to him the way she'd like to be spoken to.
A kind, compassionate, reasonable person, treating someone the way she'd like to be treated.
In the midst of chaos, she remained calm.
You can hear her confidence growing throughout the 13-minute call. You'll sense the shift in momentum. Maybe she didn't realize it at the time, but victory was hers the moment she and Hill connected.
One of the most affecting moments for me was when she told the gunman her mother shares his last name.
A man who could have blown her brains out and she's telling him they're practically related.
I was driving through Atlanta when a hero wasn't born, she was simply revealed to the world.
Right before officers race in to seize Hill, after Tuff persuades him peacefully to turn himself over, she tells him she loves him.
She dares to turn her cheek.
We sure can learn a lot from Antoinette Tuff.
(Click to follow Anderson Cooper's coverage of the Tuff's reunion with 911 Operator Kendra McCray.)