DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — A gunman who was persuaded by a bookkeeper to surrender during a 2013 gun battle with police at a school near Atlanta pleaded guilty to multiple charges Tuesday and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Michael Brandon Hill, 21, entered the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy near Decatur on Aug. 20, 2013, armed with a rifle patterned after an AK-47 and nearly 500 bullets, according to police. He repeatedly fired at police from inside the school before school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff persuaded him to surrender. Tuff said later that she prayed as she tried to persuade him against further violence.
No one was hurt in the gunfire.
"Her actions saved a number of lives out there at the school that day," said Roderick Wilkerson, deputy chief assistant for the Stone Mountain district attorney's office.
Hill's defense attorney, Annie Deets, said Hill has a history of mental illness that started when he was 7. Deets said Hill was abused by his late father and lived with a mother who abused drugs and alcohol. He tried killing himself at least nine times, and he was in and out of state custody as a child. He turned up at area hospitals seeking psychiatric medication.
Months before Hill attacked the school, he was burned in an apartment fire and became homeless.
"Mr. Hill's only intention that day was to harm himself," Deets said. She said Hill did not fire any shots close to the police officers who quickly swarmed the school.
State officials will evaluate Hill for mental illness and create a treatment plan while he's in prison and during the 20-year probation sentence that follows.
Hill said little during the sentencing hearing. At times, he rocked slightly in a courtroom chair.
Tapes of 911 calls revealed Tuff's calm intervention. She begins by telling Hill of her own struggles, including raising a disabled child and losing her husband. The bookkeeper reassured him by saying he didn't hurt anyone, hadn't harmed her and could still surrender peacefully.
"We're not gonna hate you, baby. It's a good thing that you're giving up," Tuff says after having Hill put his weapons and ammunition on the counter. Tuff tells Hill she loves him and will pray for him.
President Barack Obama later called Tuff and praised her for the courage she displayed during the ordeal.
Hill pleaded guilty in DeKalb County Superior Court to 13 counts including aggravated assault, burglary, making terroristic threats, carrying a gun in a school zone and illegal possession of a firearm.
The school, a few miles east of Atlanta, has more than 800 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.