Nashville school shooting: 3 children, 3 adults killed
A former student shot through the doors of a Christian elementary school and killed three children and three adults after carefully planning the massacre by drawing a detailed map and surveying the building, police said.
The Covenant School massacre in Nashville was the latest in a string of mass shootings in a country increasingly enraged by school bloodshed.
Among the victims were three 9-year-old children, the main school administrator, a substitute teacher and a caretaker. Amid the chaos, a familiar ritual unfolded: Panicked parents rushed to school to see if their children were safe and tearfully hugged their children, and a stunned community planned vigils for the victims. .
“I was literally moved to tears to see this and the children as they walked out of the building,” Nashville Metropolitan Police Chief John Drake said Monday at one of several press conferences.
Police gave unclear information about the shooter’s gender. For hours, police identified the shooter as a 28-year-old woman and eventually identified the person as Audrey Hale. Then, at a late afternoon press conference, the police chief said Hale was transgender. After the press conference, police spokesman Don Aaron declined to elaborate on how Hale currently identified himself.
Drake didn’t give a specific motive to reporters’ question, but gave chilling examples of the shooter’s prior planning for the targeted attack.
“We have a manifesto, we have writings that we go through that relate to that date, the actual incident,” he said. “We have a map drawn of how this was all going to play out.”
He said in an interview with NBC News that investigators believe Hale had “some resentment that he had to go to that school.”
The shooter entered by shooting glass doors in the building, smashing them, police said later in a tweet.
The shooter was armed with two “assault-type” weapons as well as a handgun, authorities said. At least two of them were obtained legally in the Nashville area, according to the chief.
The victims were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all aged 9, and adults Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.
The website of The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school founded in 2001, lists a Katherine Koonce as head of the school. Her LinkedIn profile says she has run the school since July 2016. Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a caretaker, according to investigators.
The students held hands as they made their way to school buses, which led them to a nearby church to meet their parents.
Rachel Dibble, who was at the church as the families reunited with their children, described the scene as everyone being “in complete shock”.
“People were shaking involuntarily,” said Dibble, whose children attend another private school in Nashville. “The kids started their mornings in their adorable little uniforms, they probably had Froot Loops and now their whole life has changed today.”
Communities across the United States have suffered one massacre after another in recent years, with school shootings taking a particularly painful toll.
Recent nationwide tragedies include the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas last year; a freshman who shot his teacher in Virginia; and a shooting last week in Denver that injured two administrators.
President Joe Biden, speaking Monday at the White House, called the shooting “the worst family nightmare” and again implored Congress to pass a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.
“It tears at the soul of this nation, tears at the very soul of this nation,” Biden said.
Biden then ordered that the American flag be flown at half-mast on all federal buildings through March 31. He also spoke to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Nashville Mayor John Cooper about the shooting, officials said.
Founded as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church — which is affiliated with the conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church of America — the Covenant School is located in the affluent neighborhood of Green Hills, just south of downtown Nashville, home to the famous Bluebird Cafe — a place typically loved by musicians and songwriters.
The school has about 200 students from kindergarten through sixth grade, as well as about 50 staff members.
“Our community is heartbroken,” a statement from the school said. “We mourn a tremendous loss and are in shock as we emerge from the terror that destroyed our school and our church. We are focused on loving our students, families, teachers and staff and on the beginning of the healing process.”
Prior to Monday’s violence in Nashville, there had been seven mass shootings at K-12 schools since 2006 in which four or more people were killed in 24 hours, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. In all these cases, the shooters were men.
The database does not include school shootings in which fewer than four people were killed, which have become much more common in recent years. Just last week, for example, school shootings occurred in Denver and the Dallas area within two days of each other.
Monday’s tragedy unfolded over approximately 14 minutes. Police received the first call of an active shooter at 10:13 a.m.
Officers began clearing the first floor of the school when they heard gunshots coming from the second level, Aaron said during a press briefing. Police later said in a tweet that the shooter fired at officers arriving from a second-story window and came armed with substantial ammunition.
Two officers from a five-member squad opened fire in response, killing the suspect at 10:27 a.m., Aaron said. An officer was injured in the hand by cut glass.
Aaron said no police were present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because it is a church-run school.
Jozen Reodica heard police sirens and fire engines wailing from outside his nearby office building. As her apartment building was locked, she pulled out her phone and recorded the chaos.
“I thought I would see this on TV,” she said. “And right now, it’s real.”
Nashville has seen its share of mass violence in recent years, including an attack on Christmas Day 2020 where a recreational vehicle intentionally exploded in the heart of historic downtown Music City, killing the suicide bomber, injuring three others and forcing more than 60 businesses to close.
A shocked city wept in multiple vigils on Monday night. At Belmont United Methodist Church, tearful sniffles filled the background as vigil attendees sang, knelt in prayer and lit candles. They lamented the national cycle of violent and deadly shootings, at one point reciting together, “we confess we have not done enough to protect” the children injured or killed in the shootings.
“We need to take a step back. We need to breathe. We need to cry,” said Paul Purdue, the church’s senior pastor. “We need to remember. We need to make room for those who are grieving. We need to hear the cries of our neighbours.”
Associated Press writers Kristin Hall in Nashville contributed to this report; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles; and Beatrice Dupuy and Larry Fenn in New York; as well as AP researchers Randy Herschaft and Rhonda Shafner in New York.
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