Police search for motive in 'calculated and planned' mass shooting that killed 6 at Nashville Christian school
Police in Nashville are digging into the background and motivations of a former student who entered a Christian elementary school armed with AR-style weapons and detailed maps and opened fire, killing three children and three adults.
The shooter, identified as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, was shot and killed by police during the Monday attack, leaving behind “drawn out” maps of the Covenant School detailing “how this was all going to take place,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said.
As police work to piece together what led up to the violence, officials said they had determined where the shooter lived in the Nashville area and have interviewed Hale’s father. Investigators were expected to spend Tuesday processing the scene and gathering more details about what happened during the roughly 14 minutes of terror at the elementary school.
The attack, which police said was a targeted one and involved prior planning, was the deadliest school shooting in nearly a year.
As the shooting unfolded, worried parents rushed to the school and frightened students and teachers were forced to take cover as shots rang out and police confronted the attacker, adding the grieving campus community to a long list of other US schools marked by gun violence.
“I was literally moved to tears to see this and the kids as they were being ushered out of the building,” the police chief said during a Monday news conference.
All three students shot and killed were 9 years old. They were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. Three adults killed in the shooting were identified as 61-year-old Cynthia Peak, 60-year-old Katherine Koonce and 61-year-old Mike Hill, police said.
Shaundelle Brooks, who lost her son Akilah DaSilva during a 2018 mass shooting at a Nashville-area Waffle House, said she was brought back to that painful moment as her other son was placed on lockdown at a nearby school Monday.
“My heart dropped,” Brooks recalled. “Here we are again, another mass shooting.”
The attack marked the 19th shooting at a school or university so far in 2023 in which at least one person was wounded, according to a CNN tally. With six victims, the shooting at Covenant is the deadliest school shooting since the attack in Uvalde, Texas, last May left 21 people dead.
Hale, who attended the Christian school years ago, left writings that pertain to the shooting and had scouted a second possible attack location in Nashville, “but because of a threat assessment by the suspect – there’s too much security – they decided not to,” police chief said.
The writings revealed that the attack at Covenant School “was calculated and planned,” Metro Nashville said.
The shooter was “someone that had multiple rounds of ammunition, prepared for confrontation with law enforcement, prepared to do more harm than was actually done,” the police chief said in a news conference.
Three weapons – an AR-style rifle, an AR-style pistol and a handgun – were found and police believe Hale obtained at least two of the weapons legally, Drake said. A search warrant executed at Hale’s home also resulted in the seizure of a sawed-off shotgun, a second shotgun and other evidence, according to police.
So far, little is known about the shooter. Hale graduated from Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville last year, the president of the school confirmed to CNN, and a LinkedIn profile says Hale worked as a freelance graphic designer and a part-time grocery shopper.
Police have referred to Hale as the “female shooter” and at an evening press conference added that Hale was transgender. When asked for clarification, a spokesperson told CNN Hale used “male pronouns” on a social media profile.
Armed with three firearms, the shooter got into the elementary school by firing through a door, beginning an attack that unfolded over about 14 minutes and spanned two floors at the school.
Metro Nashville Police released surveillance video showing the moment the shooter arrived at the school, shot through glass doors and climbed through to get inside. The video goes on to show the suspect walking through the hallways, pointing an assault style weapon.
At 10:13 a.m., police got a call of an active shooter inside Covenant school and rushed to the scene. The first five responding officers heard gunfire coming from the second floor.
They went upstairs and confronted the shooter, who “had been firing through a window at arriving police cars,” police said in the news release. Two officers then opened fire, killing the shooter at 10:27 a.m., police spokesperson Don Aaron said.
The police chief commended the five officers for their quick response.
“I was hoping this day would never ever come here in the city. But we will never wait to make entry and to go in and to stop a threat especially when it deals with our children,” Drake said in a Monday news conference.
After the shooter was killed, the children were evacuated from the school and taken in buses to be reunited with their families. Video showed the children holding hands and walking in a line out of the school, where there were community members embracing.
“This school prepared for this with active shooter training for a reason. We don’t like to think that this is ever going to happen to us. But experience has taught us that we need to be prepared because in this day and time it is the reality of where we are,” Nashville Metropolitan Councilman Russ Pulley told CNN.
Two Covenant School employees are among the victims of Monday’s mass shooting, according to the school.
Katherine Koonce was identified as the head of the school on its website, which also says she attended school in Nashville at Vanderbilt University and Trevecca Nazarene University, along with getting her master’s degree from Georgia State University.
Mike Hill was identified in the staff section of the Covenant Presbyterian Church’s website, which is now offline. He was listed as facilities/kitchen staff. A friend of Mike Hill confirmed his image to CNN. Hill, 61, was a custodian at the school, per police.
“Our community is heartbroken. We are grieving tremendous loss and are in shock coming out of the terror that shattered our school and church. We are focused on loving our students, our families, our faculty and staff and beginning the process of healing,” Covenant school said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WZTV.
“Law enforcement is conducting its investigation, and while we understand there is a lot of interest and there will be a lot of discussion about and speculation surrounding what happened, we will continue to prioritize the well-being of our community. We appreciate the outpouring of support we have received, and we are tremendously grateful to the first responders who acted quickly to protect our students, faculty and staff. We ask for privacy as our community grapples with this terrible tragedy – for our students, parents, faculty and staff,” the statement continued.
The Covenant School is a private Christian school founded in 2001 as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church and teaches preschool through 6th grade, according to its website.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he is “overwhelmed at the thought of the loss of these families, of the future lost by these children and their families.”
“The leading cause of kids’ death now is guns and gunfire and that is unacceptable,” Cooper said.
A recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in December backs that point, finding that homicide is a leading cause of death for children in the United States and the overall rate has increased an average of 4.3% each year for nearly a decade.
President Joe Biden called the shooting at a Nashville school “heartbreaking, a family’s worst nightmare,” while advocating for gun reform.
Biden said Congress needs to pass an assault weapons ban because we “need to do more to protect our schools.” However, a bipartisan solution is extremely unlikely this Congress with a slim Democratic majority in the Senate and a GOP-led House.