DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - For Antoinette Tuff, the shooting rampage at a Parkland, Florida high school is a painful reminder that young people are crying out for help, but don't know where to turn for support. She told FOX 5's Portia Bruner educators and parents need to make sure children, adolescents, and teenagers know who they can turn to help deal with the ordinary and extraordinary challenges.
"Allow them to have that dialogue with you or someone else they can trust. Let them know that it is okay to be scared, and overwhelmed, but that it is eventually going to be okay. But what happened yesterday was definitely up another cry for help and we need to be better listeners so that we can help," said Tuff. "And make sure your children know it's okay to go to school tomorrow and that it's okay for you to go to work tomorrow. They need to know that they are safe and they need to be able to talk to you about their feelings."
Tuff is credited with saving hundreds of lives on August 20, 2013. That's the day 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill walked into Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy in DeKalb County with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammo.
"That day was life-or-death for us, but the difference in life or death was conversation. I prayed, 'God what do you want me to do?' and then we just started talking and I listened to him," Tuff recalled.
Tuff said Hill started to open up about the emotional problems weighing him down and she still shared deeply personal stories about her husband, who had just left her after 33 years together. The two kept talking and she eventually convinced Hill to surrender to police. He fired several shots as he walked out of the building. Those shots can be heard on the 911 call Tuff made that day. Fortunately, no one was injured. He eventually pled guilty and is now serving 20 years in prison.
Tuff left the school district to create KidsOntheMoveforSuccess.org. The nonprofit foundation offers mentorship and scholarship opportunities to students in DeKalb County Schools and across metro Atlanta.
"What I do with my kids is pair them up with troubled kids so that they can tell adults when they see signs of trouble. We all have to be willing to help and make sure that kids get the help they need," Tuff said.
"Despite our differences, we are all going to have to pull together to help solve this problem. What are we going to do to help kids figure out how to deal with everyday life problems and deal with the things that happened when life doesn't go as planned?" Tuff challenged.