NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The former student who shot through the door of a Nashville Christian elementary school and killed three children and three adults drew a detailed map of the school, including potential entry points, and carried out surveillance of the building before committing the massacre.
Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake did not say exactly what prompted the shooter to open fire Monday morning at The Covenant School before being killed by police. But he provided harrowing examples of shooters' elaborate planning for targeted attacks, the latest in a series of mass shootings in a country increasingly unsettled by bloodshed in schools.
“We have a manifesto, we have some papers that we will discuss in relation to this date, the actual events,” he told reporters. “We have a map outlining how all of this will play out.”
He said in an interview with NBC News that investigators believed the shooter had “resentment for having to go to that school.”
The victims included three children as young as 9 years old, a school administrator, a substitute teacher and a guard. Amid the chaos, a familiar ritual played out: frantic parents rushing to schools to see if their children were safe and tearfully embracing their children, and a stunned community stood vigil 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 a “complete shock”.
“People are involuntarily shaking,” he said. “Kids… started their morning in cute little uniforms, they probably have Froot Loops and now their whole life has changed today.”
Police provided opaque information about the sex of the shooter. Over the course of hours, police identified the shooter as a 28-year-old woman and finally identified the person as Audrey Elizabeth Hale. Later at a press conference in the afternoon, the Chief of Police said that Hale was transgender. After the press conference, police spokesman Don Aaron declined to elaborate on how Hale was currently being identified.
Authorities said Hale was armed with two “assault style” weapons as well as a pistol. At least two of these are believed to have been legally obtained in the Nashville area, according to the chief. Police said a search of Hale's home uncovered a sawed-off shotgun, a second rifle, and other unspecified evidence.
The victims were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all aged 9, and adult Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.
The website for Covenant School, a Presbyterian school founded in 2001, lists Katherine Koonce as principal. His LinkedIn profile said he had presided over the school since July 2016. Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a caretaker, according to investigators.
Founded as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, The Covenant School is located in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood just south of downtown Nashville which is home to the popular Bluebird Café – a venue usually favored by musicians and songwriters.
The school has around 200 students from preschool through sixth grade, as well as around 50 staff members.
“Our community is deeply saddened,” said a statement from the school. “We are deeply saddened by the incredible loss and shocked by the terror that has destroyed our school and church. We focus on loving our students, our families, our faculty and staff and begin the healing process.
Prior to Monday's violence in Nashville, there had been seven mass killings at K-12 schools since 2006 in which four or more people were killed within 24 hours, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern. University. Everyone, the shooter is a man.
The database does not include school shootings that killed fewer than four people, which have become much more common in recent years. Just last week, for example, school shootings occurred in the Denver and Dallas areas within two days of each other.
Monday's tragedy lasted for approximately 14 minutes. Police received an initial call of an active shooter at 10:13 a.m
Officers had started cleaning the first floor of the school when they heard gunshots coming from the second floor, Aaron said. Police later said the shooter shot officers coming from a second-floor window and came carrying significant ammunition.
Two officers from the five-member team opened fire in response, killing the suspect at 10:27 a.m., Aaron said.
Late Monday night, police released about two minutes of edited surveillance video showing the shooter's car driving into the school from multiple angles, including one where children can be seen playing on swings in the background. Further views of the interior show the glass doors to the school being shot and the shooter ducking through one of the shattered doors.
More footage from the inside shows the shooter walking through the school's corridors holding a long-barreled pistol and walking into a room labeled “church office”, then out again. At the end of the footage, the shooter is seen walking down another long corridor with a drawn gun. The shooter is not seen interacting with any other people in the video, which has no sound.
Aaron said no police officers were present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because it was a church-run school.
President Joe Biden, speaking at the White House on Monday, called the shooting a “family's worst nightmare” and pleaded with Congress again to pass a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.
A shaken city mourned during several vigils Monday night. At the Belmont United Methodist Church, sobs filled the background as attendees sang, knelt in prayer, and lit candles. They lament the national cycle of violent and deadly shootings.
“We need to step back. We need to breathe. We need to grieve,” said Paul Purdue, the church's senior pastor. “We need to remember. We need to make room for others who are grieving. We need to hear our neighbors cry.”
Contributing to this report are Associated Press writer Kristin Hall in Nashville; 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; and AP researchers Randy Herschaft and Rhonda Shafner in New York.