NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The former student who shot through the doors of a Nashville Christian elementary school, killing three children and three adults, drew a detailed map of the school, including potential entry points, and conducted surveillance of the building before carrying out the massacre.
Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake has not said exactly what led the gunman to open fire Monday morning at The Covenant School before he was killed by police. But he provided chilling examples of the shooter’s elaborate planning for the targeted attack, the latest in a string of mass shootings in a country increasingly troubled by bloodshed in schools.
“We have a manifesto, we have some writings that we transfer to this date, the actual incident,” he told reporters. “We have a map drawn on how all this is going to play out.”
He told NBC News that investigators believe the killer had “some resentment for having to go to that school.”
Among the victims were three 9-year-old children, the school principal, a substitute teacher and a guardian. Amid the chaos, a familiar ritual took place: panicked parents rushed to the school to see if their children were safe and tearfully hugged their children, and a stunned community held vigils for the victims.
Rachel Dibble, who was at a nearby church where the children were taken to be reunited with their parents, described the scene as everyone being in “complete shock”.
“People were shivering involuntarily,” she said. “The kids … started the morning in their cute little uniforms, probably had Froot Loops and now their whole lives have changed today.”
The police gave vague information about the killer’s gender. For hours, police identified the killer as a 28-year-old woman and eventually identified the person as Audrey Elizabeth Hale. Then at a late afternoon news conference, the police chief said Hale is transgender. After the press conference, police spokesman Don Aaron declined to specify how Hale is currently identified.
Authorities said Hale was armed with two “assault-style” weapons, as well as a handgun. At least two of them are believed to have been legally obtained in the Nashville area, the chief said. Police said a search of Hale’s home turned up a shotgun, another shotgun and other unspecified evidence.
The victims have been identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9 years old, and the adults Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.
The website of The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school founded in 2001, lists Katherine Koonce as the head of school. Her LinkedIn profile says she has run the school since July 2016. Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a custodian, according to investigators.
Founded as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, The Covenant School is located in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood south of downtown Nashville that is home to the famous Bluebird Café – a place popular with musicians and songwriters.
The school has about 200 students from preschool to sixth grade, as well as about 50 employees.
“Our community is heartbroken,” the school said in a statement. “We mourn the enormous loss and are shocked by the terror that has broken our school and church. We are focused on loving our students, our families, our faculty and staff and beginning the healing process.”
Before 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 a 24-hour period, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. In all of them, the shooters were men.
The database does not include school shootings in which fewer than four people are killed, which have become far 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 in about 14 minutes. The police received the first call about an active shooting 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. Police later said the shooter fired at arriving officers from a second-floor window and came armed with a significant amount of ammunition.
Two officers from the five-man squad opened fire in response, killing the suspect at 10:27 a.m., Aaron said.
Police released about two minutes of edited surveillance video late Monday night showing the killer’s car driving to the school from multiple angles, including one showing children playing on swings in the background. The next shot from inside shows the school’s glass doors being blown out and the shooter ducking through one of the broken doors.
Multiple shots from inside show the shooter walking down a school hallway holding a long-barreled handgun and entering a room labeled “church office” and then returning. In the final part of the video, the shooter can be seen walking down another long corridor with his gun drawn. The video does not show the killer interacting with anyone else, which has no sound.
Aaron said there were no police officers present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because the school is owned by the church.
President Joe Biden, speaking at the White House on Monday, called the shooting “a family’s worst nightmare” and again asked Congress to pass a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.
Shocking city mourned during multiple vigils Monday night. At Belmont United Methodist Church, sniffles of tears filled the background as vigil attendees sang, knelt in prayer and lit candles. They lamented a national cycle of violent and deadly shootings.
“We have to retreat. We have to breathe. We have to grieve,” said Paul Purdue, the church’s senior pastor. “We have to remember. We must make room for others who are grieving. We must hear the cries of our neighbors.”
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; Beatrice Dupuy and Larry Fenn in New York; and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington; as well as AP researchers Randy Herschaft and Rhonda Shafner in New York.