Three adults and three 9-year-olds were shot and killed in an attack on a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday morning. The shooter, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who once attended the school, was killed after being confronted by officers. Below is what we know about this developing story.
Shortly after 10 a.m. on Monday, a shooter opened fire at the Covenant School, a private Christian school attached to a church enrolling roughly 200 students from pre-K through sixth grade, with 30 faculty members. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said the shooter, who has been identified as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, was armed with an AR-style rifle, an AR-style pistol, and a handgun. Hale entered the school through a locked side entrance after shooting through the door. (MNPD has released video of the break-in.) The assailant shot at the victims in a lobby of the building. “She targeted random students in the school … whoever she came in contact with, she fired rounds,” said MNPD chief John Drake. The first call for the shooting came in at 10:13 a.m. Police officers quickly responded and the shooter fired at officers through the windows on the second floor. Police entered the building, confronting and killing the shooter on the second floor. The attack lasted 14 minutes, according to the police.
On Tuesday, the MNPD released body-camera footage from two of their officers on the scene that day, Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo. (Warning: The video is graphic.) The footage shows a group of officers making their way through the school hallways, checking various classrooms for the assailant. After climbing a set of stairs, they hear the sound of gunfire and discover the shooter. The officers immediately open fire, killing Hale.
Early Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Vanderbilt University Medical Center confirmed that three children who were taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds had died. Soon thereafter, the hospital confirmed that three adults had been shot and killed in the attack as well.
Nashville police identified the victims several hours after the attack. They are:
- Evelyn Dichaus, 9
- William Kinney, 9
- Hallie Scruggs, 9, was the daughter of the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, which is connected to the school.
- Mike Hill, 61, was a custodian at the school.
- Dr. Katherine Koonce, 60, was the head of the Covenant School.
- Cynthia Peak, 61, was a substitute teacher at the school.
There have been no other reported injuries, other than a responding police officer who was wounded by cut glass.
Police identified the shooter as 28-year-old Nashville resident Audrey E. Hale. Police Chief Drake told reporters on Monday that the shooter was “at one point a student” at the Covenant School. Investigators later found evidence in a search of the suspect’s home and car indicating the shooting was a “targeted” attack, including detailed maps of the school and a manifesto. Drake said the shooter was both “prepared for a confrontation with law enforcement” and “prepared to do more harm.” He added that the shooter had assessed a potential location for a second attack, but “because of a threat assessment by the suspect — there’s too much security — they decided not to.” Officers executing a search warrant at Hale’s home in Nashville found a sawed-off shotgun and a standard shotgun.
During a press conference Tuesday, Chief Drake said Hale purchased firearms legally from five different gun stores. Three of those weapons were used in the shooting. Drake also said Hale hid the firearms from their parents and that a doctor was treating them for an emotional disorder, but he did not specify the type of treatment.
There continues to be confusion about the suspect’s gender identity. Police initially said the attacker was a woman; Chief Drake later said the shooter identified as transgender. According to the New York Times, a police spokeswoman “said that the shooter had been born female but listed male pronouns on a LinkedIn profile, which suggested that the suspect was a transgender man.”
Police said two of the shooter’s firearms had been purchased legally in the Nashville area. Authorities have not released any details regarding the attacker’s motive, except for a comment from Chief Drake to NBC News stating that there is “some belief that there was some resentment for having to go to that school.”
Former school headmaster Bill Campbell told NBC News that Hale was a third-grader in 2005 and fourth-grader in 2006, according to yearbooks he has kept. Hale was not named as a student in the 2007 yearbook, suggesting a possible transfer after the fourth grade. The Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville confirmed that Hale graduated in 2022.
Prior to the shooting, Hale reportedly messaged a former middle-school basketball teammate. Averianna Patton, telling Patton, “I’m planning to die today,” and that Patton would “probably hear about me on the news after I die.”
“After phone calls from friends and Audrey’s name was released as the shooter at Covenant Nashville school, I learned that Audrey was the shooter and that she had reached out to me prior to the shooting,” Patton said. “My heart is with all of the families affected and I’m devastated by what has happened.”
As the Times points out, mass shootings perpetrated solely by women are extremely rare. There are only four, dating back to the 1966, in the Violence Project’s database of mass shootings in the U.S.
After the shooting, there was heartbreaking and now-familiar footage of small children evacuating from the scene of a shooting.
Following a police press conference after the attack on Monday, Ashbey Beasley, a survivor of last year’s mass shooting at a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, who had been listening to the presser, stepped up to the microphones and made an impassioned plea for gun control:
President Biden: “We have to do more”
In remarks on Monday, President Joe Biden described the deaths of the children as a “family’s worst nightmare” and commended the officers who responded to the attack. “We have to do more to stop gun violence,” Biden said, urging Congress to pass his assault-weapons ban. “We have to do more to protect our schools, so they aren’t turned into prisons.”
A grim milestone
CNN reports that there have been 131 mass shootings in 2023 including Monday’s shooting, citing the Gun Violence Archive which collects data on gun incidents. This is the highest number of shootings to occur by this point of the year since 2013.
This post has been updated.