LIKE MANY OF US, Costco member Jennifer Holland delighted in the emails
that travel around the Internet relating the stories of unusual animal pairings.
Holland, a senior writer for National Geographic magazine, researched many of
those stories—to separate fact from fiction—and turned them into the books
Unlikely Friendships and Unlikely Loves (Workman Publishing, 2011 and 2013,
respectively). The books feature stories and photos of surprising duos, such as
a snake and a hamster, a badger and a fox, and a dolphin and a stray cat.
“There’s so much bad that
people are seeking hopeful stories, humor and relief,” says the
Silver Spring, Maryland, resident,
who shares a home with her husband, two dogs and several reptiles. “Cute animals fulfill that.”
—Stephanie E. Ponder
THE SCENE WAS chilling: hundreds of
children fleeing a crazed gunman who had
invaded their elementary school. Had it not
been for the courage of one woman, Decatur,
Georgia, might have become a byword for
tragedy, alongside Newtown, Connecticut,
and Littleton, Colorado.
Drawing upon faith and her own experience with despair, Antoinette Tuff, a 47-year-
old Costco member and bookkeeper at the
Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning
Academy in Decatur, Georgia, persuaded
Michael B. Hill, 20, to relinquish his AK- 47,
and turn himself over to the police.
The miracle of the day: Not a single person was injured.
The scene unfolded August 20, 2013,
after Hill entered the building and encountered Tuff, whom he ordered to call the
police and the media. A tape recording made
on the phone line to the dispatcher captured
their conversation. Calm but firm, like a sympathetic teacher or friend, Tuff elicited from
Hill that he had stopped taking his medication and no longer wanted to live.
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“I thought the same thing,” Tuff told
him. “I tried to commit suicide last year after
my husband left me, but look at me now. I’m
working and everything is OK.”
This was not hostage-negotiation rheto-
ric, but genuine empathy. In an interview
from her home in Decatur, Tuff, the mother of
a son, 22, with multiple disabilities, and a
daughter, 27, speaks about her sorrows that
had preceded the aborted shooting. After 26
years of marriage, she says her husband was
seeing another woman and wanted a
divorce. “It was just devastating,” Tuff says.
Speaking words that had comforted her,
she told the gunman, “It’s gonna be all right,
sweetie. I just want you to know that I love
you, though, OK?” And then, having per-
suaded him to surrender, she said, “I’m
proud of you. You’re gonna be OK.”
Since then, Tuff wrote Prepared for a
Purpose (Bethany House, 2014; available in
Atlanta Costco locations), and visited with
President Barack Obama, who said of her,
“Here is somebody who is not just coura-
geous, but also had enough heart that she
could convince somebody that was really
troubled that she cared about him.”
Now when Tuff looks back, she sees the
struggles of her past in a new and more
meaningful light. What seemed like pointless
agony may have saved dozens of lives.
“Everything I had done in my life up to this
point prepared me for this moment,” she says.
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