Live updates: 6 killed in Nashville school shooting, including 3 children
NASHVILLE — A 28-year-old Nashville man killed three children and three adults Monday at a private Christian elementary school, officials said, leaving behind writings and detailed maps of the school and its safety protocols.
In the latest episode of gun violence that has devastated American families and communities, the attacker opened fire just after 10 a.m. inside the Covenant School in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood where the Kindergarten through sixth graders had just started their last full week of school before the Easter break.
The shooter, whom police identified as Audrey E. Hale, had entered the building by shooting through a side door, armed with two assault weapons and a handgun, according to department chief John Drake. Nashville Metropolitan Police, and went to the second floor, firing shots before being killed by police. Chief Drake said the attacker was “at one time a student” of the school.
Surveillance video released by police on Monday night showed the gunman driving to school in what police described as a Honda Fit. In the clip, two sets of glass doors are shattered by bullets before the attacker enters the building through the shattered glass.
Dressed in camouflage pants, a black vest, and a backwards red baseball cap, the attacker wanders through rooms and hallways with a gun drawn. At one point, the shooter can be seen walking in and out of the church office and down a hallway outside the children’s ministry, as the lights of what appears to be a fire alarm flash.
There was confusion over the gender identity of the attacker in the aftermath of the attack. Chief Drake said the shooter identified as transgender. Officials used “she” and “she” to refer to the shooter, but, according to a social media post and a LinkedIn profile, the shooter appeared to identify as male in recent months.
Nashville police identified the six victims as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9, and the adults as Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher; Mike Hill, 61, goalkeeper; and Katherine Koonce, 60. Dr. Koonce was the school’s principal, according to the school’s website. Hallie Scruggs was the daughter of Chad Scruggs, the pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, according to a biography posted online by her former church in Dallas. Covenant Presbyterian is connected to the elementary school.
Chief Drake said it was too early to discuss a possible motive for the shooting, although he confirmed the attack was targeted. Authorities were reviewing the paperwork and had contacted the shooter’s father, Chief Drake said.
“We have a map drawn of how this was all going to play out,” he said. “There is currently a theory that we may be able to talk about later, but it is not confirmed, we will publish it as soon as possible.”
The shooting shattered the wealthy enclave of Green Hills, a few miles south of downtown Nashville, where the small schoolhouse and stone church sit atop a hill, nestled in a residential area filled with mansions majestic and lush landscape. Founded in 2001 as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, the Covenant School markets itself as “intentionally small” with about 200 students, according to its website, and a teacher-to-student ratio of 8 to 1. Tuition costs about $16,000 per year.
Sirens and the hum of helicopters pierced the still of a sunny spring morning on Monday, sending area residents out of their homes to await news of the shooting or assurances that their children from nearby schools had been released of isolation. A few women crowded around a live stream of the press conference, panting and shaking their heads.
“It’s terrifying to see parents running up the hill,” said Lisa DeBusk, 43, who lives in Green Hills. She said she considered sending her daughter to Covenant, calling it “the sweetest, most wonderful place.”
“We’re all resilient, but we shouldn’t have to be in this,” she added. “I never would have imagined this.”
Police received a report of the shooting at 10:13 a.m. and heard gunshots on the second floor when they arrived at the school, police spokesman Don Aaron said. Officers drove there, saw the assailant fire, and two of the officers opened fire, killing the assailant at 10.27am in a “lobby type area” on the second floor, Mr Aaron said. The school is not guarded by a policeman, he said.
Kendra Loney, spokeswoman for the Nashville Fire Department, said school children and school staff were escorted out of the building after the shooting and a total of 108 people were transported to the nearby Woodmont Baptist Church.
The students – dressed in school uniforms of red and black polo shirts, plaid skirts and khaki shorts and trousers – held hands as they exited buses, escorted by police, into a lecture hall in the interior of the church. Elsewhere in the building, parents waited to find out if their children were safe.
Rachael Anne Elrod, the chair of the Metro Nashville School Board, said she was in “the worst waiting room you could imagine” as officials prepared to reunite the children with their parents. Some, she said, were debating how to handle the rest of the day after such a traumatic morning.
“They’re mostly figuring out how they’re going to talk to their kids in the future,” Ms Elrod said. “What is the next best step? What should they do next? Do we take them for ice cream? Take them to the playground? Do we ask them what they saw? Don’t we ask them what they saw? Are we taking them to school tomorrow? Is there school tomorrow?
Rachel Dibble, whose children attend another private school in Nashville, had also visited Covenant families, some of whom she knew from youth sports.
“It has to stop,” Ms Dibble said of the school shootings. “I want a politician to sit in a church with families and 250 kids down there who are white as a sheet and shaking and gray and yellow and green and blue from shock.”
Speaking of the students, she added, “They started this morning, they had their cute little uniforms, they probably had Froot Loops. Their whole life has changed today.
There is no consensus on what constitutes a mass shooting; groups define it differently depending on the circumstances. But Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks gun violence using police reports, news reports and other public sources, defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people are killed or injured. By the end of March, records counted 130 mass shootings in the United States in 2023.
Calling the Nashville shooting a “sick” and “a family’s worst nightmare,” President Biden again pushed Congress on Monday to enact gun control legislation. He has repeatedly called for such an assault weapons ban, including during his recent visit to Monterey Park, Calif., where a gunman killed 11 people at a dance studio in January.
“It’s time we started making progress,” Biden said.
Even as school shootings become more frequent, the shooting in Covenant was unusual.
Many of the most high-profile school shootings in recent years have taken place in public schools, in part because there are so many more public schools in the United States: nearly 100,000, compared to about 30,000 private schools.
Elementary school shootings are also relatively rare, accounting for less than 20% of all incidents of gun violence on school grounds, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. Most incidents of gun violence on school campuses, including active shooter incidents, occur at high schools.
After spending time at Woodmont Baptist, counseling ministry owner Melissa Trevathan mourned the loss of Dr. Koonce, whom she said she got to know through her work with children. Ms Trevathan, who had come with Pippa, a therapy dog in training, to offer support, described Dr Koonce as ‘very magnetic’ and strong, and recalled his passion for education, his sense of humor and his love of adventure.
“She would do anything to protect her children,” Ms Trevathan said.
Emily Cochrane reported from Nashville. Jamie McGee contributed reporting from Nashville. Reports were also provided by Sarah Mervoch, Emilie Schmall, Nicolas Bogel-Burroughs, Daniel Victor, Ruth Graham And victoria kim. Kirsten Noyes, Susan C. Beachy And Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.