(CNN) — Barely two days ago, their paths crossed in the worst possible circumstances — a man armed with an assault rifle was in Antoinette Tuff’s school, and she called police.
On Thursday, Tuff and Kendra McCray, the 911 dispatcher on the other end of that line, were together again, sharing an emotional hug and tears before sitting down to recount the episode with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“We made it,” Tuff said with joy sparking her voice, with McCray responding, “We did.”
The atmosphere for the reunion was starkly different than their original encounter as voices on opposite ends of a telephone line.
That happened at 12:51 p.m. Tuesday when, according to DeKalb County, Georgia, Police Department spokeswoman Mekka Parrish, authorities got their first call about a shooting at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, just outside Atlanta.
One of those initial callers was Tuff, a bookkeeper in that school’s front office. But she wasn’t the only person that could be heard a few miles away at police dispatch — at times, there was the voice of the suspect, later identified as Michael Brandon Hill, in the background.
The gunman used Tuff as a conduit to relay information to police, which in this case meant McCray, who took Tuff’s call at the dispatch center.
In their voices, both women sounded calm throughout the call — even as gunshots were ringing out around Tuff, and later when the suspect reached into a bag to reload his AK-47-type assault rifle.
Antoinette Tuff hailed a hero
Early in the call, Tuff was blunt in what amounted to a vital assessment of the situation: “He doesn’t want the kids. He wants the police. So back off,” she told McCray. In the next breath, Tuff asked him, “And what else sir?”
But the tone changed over the next few frenetic minutes, much like what was happening at the school. The man with the rifle let it be known, via Tuff, that he was no longer threatening to shoot any police officers who approached; by then, he was communicating with them about where he should put his gun, where he should get down on the ground in surrender, and how police would come and get him.
All the while, the dispatcher largely remained silent — except a few brief acknowledgments about what she’d heard, the constant clatter of her keyboard and brief praise for Tuff, including moments after police came in and detained the suspect, who by then lay prone and weaponless on the school’s floor.
“You did great,” McCray said to Tuff 31 long minutes after that first call came in. “You did great.”
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