Three children and three adults were killed in a shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school, in Nashville on Monday, according to police. Law enforcement also killed the suspect after confronting them inside the school, officers said.
The child victims were three 9-year-olds — Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, who were students at the school. The three adult victims were staff members: Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher; Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school; and Mike Hill, 61, a custodian. The city of Nashville has a vigil planned for the victims at 5:30 pm local time on Wednesday at One Public Square Park.
Police have also identified the shooter as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who officers believe is a former student who targeted the school. Hale — who was shot and killed by police — was armed with two “assault-type” rifles and a handgun when entering the school, all of which were obtained legally. Officers have described Hale as transgender. “While the shooter’s gender identity is unclear, police [said] Hale was assigned female at birth and used ‘male pronouns’ on social media,” CNN reports.
The attack appeared to be a targeted one, based on a detailed map and related writings that were found, police said. “We have a manifesto, we have some writings that we’re going over that pertain to this date, the actual incident,” said Metropolitan Nashville Chief of Police John Drake, who added in an NBC interview that the shooter may have felt “some resentment” about having to attend this specific school.
Drake noted Tuesday that the Covenant School was one of multiple locations the shooter referenced in their writings, and that while the location seemed to be picked specifically, it did not appear that particular students were targeted. Drake also said that police had interviewed Hale’s parents and that the shooter was receiving doctor’s care for an “emotional disorder.”
Since Monday, police have released two videos from the shooting, including surveillance clips that capture Hale entering the school and a second video with body camera footage that shows officers responding at the school and approaching Hale.
“Including the shooter, a total of seven persons were killed as a result of this morning’s incident at the school,” Metro Nashville Police Department spokesperson Don Aaron told reporters during a Monday press conference.
An active shooter event has taken place at Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. The shooter was engaged by MNPD and is dead. Student reunification with parents is at Woodmont Baptist Church, 2100 Woodmont Blvd. pic.twitter.com/vO8p9cj3vx— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) March 27, 2023
The shooting occurred on Monday morning, with police first receiving calls about it at 10:13 am local time. The site of the attack, Covenant School in South Nashville, is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and serves roughly 200 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Police said they opened fire and killed the shooter at 10:27 am local time after confronting them on the second floor of the school. Officers are still working to determine the shooter’s motive at this time.
The Covenant School shooting adds to a long and horrific list of school shootings that have taken place in the last 20 years in the US. It also follows several other shootings that have occurred more recently, including at East High School in Denver, Colorado, last week, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in 2022, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.
School shootings are getting more common
According to a 2022 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, there has been a major uptick in school shootings in the last two decades: In 2000 and 2001, there were 23 incidents with casualties at public and private schools; in 2020-2021, there were 93. School shootings hit a record high in 2021, according to that report.
The frequency of school shootings in the US is an anomaly. “School shootings happen in the U.S. at an alarming rate, but they rarely happen elsewhere in the world. Eighty or 90 percent of all the school shootings in the world happen in the U.S. They are concentrated here,” William Pelfrey, a homeland security expert at Virginia Commonwealth University, has previously said. Research on school shootings has found that the US has 57 times as many school shootings as every other industrialized country combined.
Pelfrey notes that the number of guns in the US is a major factor in the number of school shootings that take place. The country has the highest gun ownership among civilians in the world, with some estimates putting it at 120.5 guns per 100 people. Experts have also cautioned against using any one profile to describe a school shooter, though researchers have found some commonalities in past instances including perpetrators who felt marginalized by their broader community and some dealing with psychological conditions including depression.
A renewed push for gun control has already been stalled
Some state, local, and federal policymakers have responded to the shooting by calling for stricter gun control — policies which have been stalled both in Congress and at the state level in Tennessee.
“I call on Congress again to pass an assault weapons ban. It’s about time that we begin to make some more progress,” President Joe Biden said on Monday. Last year, lawmakers passed a bipartisan gun control package that included a narrow set of reforms including funding for states to implement “red flag” laws, more screening for gun buyers under 21, and a crackdown on illegal guns. More ambitious reforms, like an assault weapons ban, however, have been stalled due to longstanding Republican opposition.
That opposition isn’t likely to go away, with some Congressional Republicans blaming mental health, with others saying there’s no point in trying. “I would say we’ve gone about as far as we can go unless somebody identifies some area that we didn’t address,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters on Monday.
Similarly in Tennessee, Democratic lawmakers have called for stricter gun laws, while Republicans have actively worked to expand gun rights in the state. Tennessee is among the states that does not have a “red flag” law on the books, or assault weapon restrictions. Instead, state lawmakers have aimed to make gun access easier: the state does not require a license or permit to own a gun in many cases, and there is no waiting period between buying and obtaining a gun.
“In Tennessee, guns are essentially ubiquitous, and when guns and mental health issues come into contact with each other, you have big problems like we saw yesterday in what is our worst day,” said Nashville Mayor John Cooper, a Democrat, in an interview with the Today Show. “I think it would be very challenging for Tennessee, but I think it needs to be brought up,” he added about gun control legislation.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, asked people to join him in “praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community” in a tweet responding to the shooting. He’s since faced backlash from Democrats for how he’s prioritized legislation that weakened gun regulations in the state. As The New Republic reported, Lee has signed a bill that enables people 21 and older to openly carry handguns without permits and has since sought to expand those provisions to younger residents as well.
This is a developing story, which we’ll update as more information becomes available.
Update, March 29, 10:18 am: This story was originally published on March 27 and has been updated several times to include new information about the shooting.