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Georgia school shooting averted by a brave bookkeeper – and prayer (+video)

Security plans put into place after the Newtown, Conn., shootings didn't keep a gunman from gaining entry Tuesday to a Georgia school, but they ensured a disciplined response to the crisis. A prayerful bookkeeper wasn't in the plan, but she saved the day.

By Staff writer / August 21, 2013

A sign welcomes Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy students in Decatur, Ga., as they return to classes at McNair High School on Wednesday after a man with an assault rifle and other weapons entered the academy Tuesday and shot at police from inside. The bookkeeper who persuaded the shooter to surrender his weapons credited prayer for her effective response.

David Goldman/AP

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DECATUR, GA.

A 20-year-old gunman who was talked into surrendering his assault rifle by a cool-as-a-cucumber bookkeeper after he allegedly stormed a school in Dekalb County, Ga., on Tuesday told police afterwards, “I’m sorry, I’m off my meds.”

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Coming as America’s schoolchildren begin filtering back to school for a new year, the shots fired at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy by a possibly unstable young man with a deadly arsenal may have only reinforced perceptions that people experiencing mental illness pose a serious risk to children's safety.

The incident also gave schools a chance to examine security plans put into place after the shootings last December in Newtown, Conn., including potential weaknesses in various front-door security apparatus.

More than 800 students escaped without injury from the confrontation, after Michael Douglas Hill allegedly gained entry to the heavily secured school by “piggy-backing,” or following another person, through the doors, and eventually shot 12 rounds at police from the school's front office before surrendering.

After Newtown, the push to relieve parental anxieties has focused on bolstering perimeter security, hiring armed guards, and training what security professionals call “immediate responders,” in this case, teachers and a bookkeeper, says Bob Lang, security chief at Kennesaw State University, in Kennesaw, Ga.

“In this case, [teachers] were probably briefed on what the process would be and how to get kids into a shelter-in area or lock the doors and get under desks,” he says. “But it all comes back to the perimeter – how are you keeping these people out? – and that was the weak point here.”

A strong point, however, was the school’s bookkeeper, Antoinette Tuff, who emerged as a hero after apparently talking Mr. Hill into surrendering his weapons, in part by telling him about her own hard times, including a divorce that ended a 33-year marriage and the difficulties of starting a business.

“I just started praying for him," she told Atlanta's Channel 2 Action News. "I just started talking to him ... and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be OK. And then let him know that he could just give himself up."

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