A 28-year-old shooter, with two semiautomatic weapons and a handgun, opened fire inside The Covenant School, police said. The school serves preschool to sixth grade.
President Joe Biden called Monday’s attack “heartbreaking” and a “family’s worst nightmare.”
By David K. Li and Natalie Obregon
A heavily armed former student shot through a locked school door before killing three children and three staff members at a private Christian campus in Nashville on Monday, authorities said.
In addition to the three 9-year-old students, the 28-year-old attacker fatally wounded a custodian, a substitute teacher and the head of school before being killed by responding officers, Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake said.
Audrey Hale had planned extensively for the violence at The Covenant School on Burton Hills Boulevard, police said.
“There were maps drawn of the school, in detail of surveillance, entry points,” Drake said.
The shooter, who was killed on the school’s second floor, had two “assault-type rifles and a handgun,” an official said.
The three students killed were Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney.
Substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, school head Katherine Koonce, 60, and custodian Mike Hill, 61, were also killed, police said. Koonce is a Vanderbilt University graduate who had a doctorate in education, according to the school’s website.
Students of the school, which serves preschool students through sixth graders, were bused to Woodmont Baptist Church, 2 miles away, where they were reunited with their parents.
Police said that they first got calls about the shooter at 10:13 a.m. (11:13 a.m. ET) and that Nashville firefighters first reported their personnel were responding to an “active aggressor” at 10:39 a.m.
“The police department response was swift,” police spokesperson Don Aaron told reporters.
“They heard shots coming from the second level. They immediately went to the gunfire. When the officers got to the second level, they saw a shooter, a female, who was firing. The officers engaged her. She was fatally shot by responding police officers.”
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Five police officers came upon the shooter, and two opened fire, Aaron said.
“By 10:27 the shooter was deceased,” Aaron said.
One officer was hurt by shattered glass, officials said.
The Covenant School employs 33 teachers, with an 8-to-1 student-instructor ratio, according to its website. On a normal day of class, 209 students and 42 staff members would be on campus, Aaron said.
The school was founded in 2001 as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church and shares the same address as the church.
The fire department helped usher the children out of the school, carefully trying to keep them from seeing the carnage.
“We were on scene to help them mitigate anyone from seeing exactly what else was going on,” fire spokesperson Kendra Loney said. “But we’re sure they heard the chaos surrounding this.”
“We have to do more to stop gun violence,” he said. “It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation — ripping at the very soul of the nation. And we — we have to do more to protect our schools so they aren’t turned into prisons.”
But Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., told reporters that no laws — existing or proposed — could have stopped the attack.
“It’s a horrible, horrible situation, and we’re not going to fix it,” Burchett said. “Criminals are going to be criminals. And my dad, he fought in the Second World War in the Pacific against the Japanese, and he said, ‘Buddy, if somebody wants to take you out and doesn’t mind losing their life, there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do about it.’”
GOP Rep. Andy Ogles, whose Nashville district includes the school, said he’s watching the situation closely.
“At a time like this, I just encourage everyone to pray for the families and those affected,” Ogles said.
The gunfire in Nashville follows multiple shootings on campuses across the country.
Just days ago, a 17-year-old person wounded two administrators at a Denver high school before he was found dead.
In February, three students were fatally shot at Michigan State University.
And in January, two students were killed at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa.
Adrienne Battle, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, said the school district is keenly aware of the threats campuses face from gunfire.
“We don’t know all of the details of how or why this happened, and we may never fully know,” she said in a statement. “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. We will continue to reinforce our safety protocols and monitor and follow best practices on keeping students safe from harm.”
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