Story: staff report from States Newsroom’s Tennessee Lookout
Among the victims are three 9-year-old children: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney. The adult victims are Cynthia Peak, 61, Mike Hill, 61, and Katherine Koonce, 60. Police said Peak was a substitute teacher, Hill a custodian and Koonce Covenant’s head of school.
The shooter, identified as 28-year-old Nashville native Audrey Elizabeth Hale, was killed by responding officers, according to police. Hale is believed to be a former student of the school, Nashville Police Chief John Drake said. Police said they have found a “manifesto,” a map detailing entry points into the school and other materials. Local and federal law enforcement on Monday afternoon continued a search of the Nashville home Hale shared with parents and also said they have found no prior criminal history.
Drake said Hale may have had plans to target another school.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Drake said of the tragic loss of life. He was moved to tears to see children being ushered out of the building following the shooting, he said. “My heart goes out to the families of all six” victims.
All of the victims’ families have been notified, according to police. Families of students and staff gathered at a nearby church that served as a reunification center.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden on Monday morning also addressed the tragedy at separate public appearances.
“It’s sick … heartbreaking … a family’s worst nightmare” the president said. He called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban and urged students and teachers to seek out counseling.
“We stand with Nashville in prayer,” Jill Biden said.
The shooting took place Monday morning inside the school where 209 students and 42 staff are present on a typical day. The school, operated by Covenant Presbyterian Church, is located in one of Nashville’s most affluent neighborhoods.
Nashville Police responded to a report of an active shooter incident made at 10:13 a.m., said Don Aaron, a police department spokesman.
At 10:27 a.m. the shooter was killed by two of a five-member police team that responded, he said.
Aaron said the shooter was armed with at least two assault rifles and a handgun. Hale entered by shooting through a side door at the school and went to the second floor, police said. The shooting took place on the second floor, a “lobby-type area,” not inside a classroom.
Drake said they believe two of the weapons were legally obtained in Nashville.
One officer suffered a hand injury from cut glass, Aaron said. “That is the only other injury I’m aware of,” he added.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center confirmed students from the pre-K-6th grade school on Burton Hills Road were transported to Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital, where they were pronounced dead.
The private school had no onsite school resource officer, Aaron said.
The school did have security cameras. “There is video from the school we are viewing now to try and learn exactly how all of this happened,” Aaron said.
Nashville Police plan to release video of officers confronting the shooter.
A nearby vehicle yielded clues to law enforcement about the shooter’s identity, the police chief said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will handle the officer-involved shooting, while Nashville police will field the larger investigation, law enforcement officials said during a 2 p.m. briefing.
“It’s a horrible, senseless tragedy, and we will be here working with our partners to get through this,” said TBI Director David Rausch.
The Senate and House planned to gavel in Monday evening and then adjourn out of respect for the victims.
Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Nashville, issued a statement on the incident, which took place in his South Nashville statehouse district.
“This is an unimaginable tragedy for the victims, all the children, families, teachers, staff and my entire community,” Freeman said.
“I live around the corner from Covenant and pass by it often. I have friends who attend both church and school there. I have also visited the church in the past. It tears my heart apart to see this. I’m praying for my neighborhood, my city and my state,” he said. “It is time to pull together and provide all the love and support that we can to those affected by this terrible catastrophe. It is time for serious action.”
State Sen. Heidi Campbell, a Nashville Democrat, spent the day at Covenant School reuniting parents with students in the church sanctuary. The school is also located in her district.
“No parent should have to go through this. This has been the worst waiting room I’ve ever sat in,” Campbell said.
Campbell, in part, blames what she calls a “diseased gun culture” for the shooting deaths. Tennessee passed a permitless carry law in July 2021 allowing anyone except felons, two-time DUI offenders and stalkers to carry handguns without a state permit process.
The law applies to residents 21 and older, but bills are moving this year in the General Assembly to lower the age limit to 18.
Campbell said when she spoke out against the legislation two years ago on the Senate floor, the bill’s sponsor told her “this is the price we pay for freedom.”
“This has nothing to do with freedom. This is the antithesis of freedom. These parents are sitting here with minutes turning into hours waiting to find out what’s happened to their children,” Campbell said.
Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter early Monday afternoon he was monitoring the situation.
“As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation and Nashville community,” Lee said.
The House Republican Caucus issued a statement calling the shooting deaths “a horrific act of violence carried out by a disturbed individual.”