NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The shooter who killed six people, including three children, at a Nashville elementary school Monday had detailed maps of the facility, considered another target and left behind writings that may shed light on a motive, authorities said.
The attacker, identified as Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, was a former student at The Covenant School who broke in Monday morning by shooting the glass from a door. The intruder gunned down three young students and three staff members before being confronted and killed by police, Metro Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake said.
In surveillance footage released by Nashville police late Monday, Hale is seen driving to the school to carry out the shooting.
Armed with two AR-style weapons – one a rifle, the other a pistol – along with a handgun, Hale is seen shooting into glass doors to enter the building. The video then shows Hale walking in hallways and aiming an assault rifle before the video cuts off.
According to a tweet from Nashville police, the shooter had “significant ammunition.”Drake said two of the weapons were legally purchased in the Nashville area but did not specify which ones.
Police said five officers promptly responded to a 911 call that arrived at 10:13 a.m. When they arrived, the shooter fired on arriving police vehicles from a 2nd story window, the Nashville police tweeted, showing pictures of bullet-pierced windows on police cruisers.
The officers found the assailant on the second floor of the building housing the school and a Presbyterian church and neutralized the threat by 10:27 a.m., police said.
“I was hoping this day would never, ever come here in the city,’’ Drake said, “but we would never wait to make entry and go in and stop a threat, especially when it deals with our children.’’
Police initially identified the shooter as a female, but later said Hale was assigned female at birth and later identified as male.
Drake said officers found written material along with a map describing how the assault would unfold, as well as a plan to shoot up a different Nashville school that Hale scrapped because of “too much security.’’
Asked if there was a correlation between the shooter’s gender identity and the attack, Drake said: “There is some theory to that. We’re investigating all the leads and, once we know exactly, we’ll let you know.’’
In an interview with NBC News, Drake said investigators believe Hale had “some resentment for having to go to that school.”
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Victims identified, three of them under age 10
Police identified the victims as Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs, all of them age 9, and Mike Hill, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Cynthia Peak, 61. Drake later said one of the children was 8 and about to turn 9 but did not specify who. The Tennessean said Koonce was the school’s headmaster.
Three children and two adults were taken to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with gunshot wounds, and all five were pronounced dead there, said Craig Boerner, spokesperson for Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The sixth victim was not taken to the hospital, police spokesman Don Aaron said.
“This is the ultimate crime, when schoolchildren and caregivers are the victims of senseless gun violence,” Glenn Funk, Davidson County District Attorney General, said in a news conference.
What happened in the Covenant School shooting?
The shooter entered through a side entrance of the school and went to the second floor “firing multiple shots,” Aaron said, adding that all doors were locked.
Police received a call of an active shooter at 10:13 a.m., Aaron said. Officers responded “swiftly,” entered the first floor and began clearing the area, he said. They “immediately went to the gunfire,” he said.
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Two of the five officers on the floor opened fire on the shooter and killed Hale by 10:27 a.m., Aaron said. The intruder was in a “lobby-type area,” not a classroom, Aaron said.
Kendra Loney, a spokesperson with Metro Fire, said rescue crews responded and tried to save lives.
The remaining students were escorted out of the building with faculty and staff, and buses took them to a site where students were being reunited with their parents, Loney said. “We’re sure that they heard the chaos that was surrounding this,” she said.
One police officer had a hand injury from cut glass, Loney and Aaron said. No one else was wounded, Aaron said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will assist the Metro Nashville Police Department in the investigation, said TBI Director David Rausch. Officials with the FBI and special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene.
President Biden: ‘We have to do more’
President Joe Biden referred to the shooting as a “sick” act and reiterated his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.
Biden ordered the American flag at the White House to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims. The White House later said the president spoke to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Nashville Mayor John Cooper about the shooting.
“We have to do more to stop gun violence,” he said. “It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping at the very soul of the nation. We have to do more to protect our schools so they aren’t turned into prisons.”
First lady Jill Biden commented on the attack during her opening remarks at a National League of Cities event in Washington. “I am truly without words, and our children deserve better,” she said. “We stand, all of us, with Nashville in prayer.”
What is the Covenant School in Nashville?
The Covenant School is a private school founded in 2001 that serves students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, according to its website. On a given day, slightly over 200 students and 42 staff members are at the school, Aaron said.
The school is on the campus of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the city’s Green Hills neighborhood, about 9 miles southeast of downtown Nashville. It’s next door to a Nashville Fire Department station and less than a mile south of Nashville’s largest shopping district.
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Because a church operates the school, no Nashville police officers were assigned to the building, Aaron said. Officers were reviewing video from the school, he said.
In response to the shooting, the school said it will continue to prioritize the well-being of the community and asked for privacy as community members process the incident.
“Our community is heartbroken. We are grieving tremendous loss and are in shock coming out of the terror that shattered our school and church,” the school said in a statement Monday night.
“We are focused on loving our students, our families, our faculty and staff and beginning the process of healing.”
89th shooting on school grounds this year
The attack marks the 89th shooting on K-12 school grounds in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. Last week, a 17-year-old student shot and wounded two faculty members at a high school in Denver.
“I was literally moved to tears to see this and the kids as they were being ushered out of the building,” Drake said.
There have been 130 mass shootings in the U.S. this calendar year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as at least four people injured.
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Illinois resident Ashbey Beasley was on vacation and about a block away from the school when she heard shots Monday morning. Beasley, who was at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park last summer when a gunman opened fire, ran over to the scene.
“Aren’t you tired of this,” she said, taking over the microphones after a news conference. “How is this still happening?”
Tennessee officials ‘heartbroken’ over school shooting
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he was “closely monitoring the tragic situation.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper thanked first responders and medical professionals and said his “heart goes out to the families of the victims.” He wrote on Twitter: “In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting.”
Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn said she was “heartbroken to hear about the shooting.” She wrote on Twitter: “My office is in contact with federal, state, & local officials, & we stand ready to assist. Thank you to the first responders working on site. Please join us in prayer for those affected.”
Adrienne Battle, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, said she was “grieving today over the tragic murder of children and school staff right here in our community,” calling the killings an “unimaginable loss of life.”
“We don’t know all of the details of how or why this happened, and we may never fully know,” Battle said. “At Metro Schools, we have invested considerable resources to strengthen security at our facilities in response to the far too many, far too often instances of school shootings across the nation over the years.”
Church service remembers child
At the Woodmont Christian Church, a box of tissues sat at the end of each pew as the solemn crowd began the long process of grieving for the victims.
Senior minister Clay Stauffer shared through tears a story of Evelyn Dieckhaus at the end of the service. Dieckhaus was a third grader at the Covenant School and her sister, a fifth grader, is a member of the disciples class at the church.
Evelyn’s sister cried as she said, “I don’t want to be an only child.”
The Woodmont Christian Church will be organizing a fund for the affected families as a way to help with counseling costs.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; Chris Gadd, Rachel Wegner, Kirsten Fiscus, and Craig Shoup, Nashville Tennessean; The Associated Press