Police: Nashville gunman shot indiscriminately at victims

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The gunman who killed three students and three staff at a Nashville Christian school legally bought seven guns in recent years and hid the guns from their parents before carrying out the attack by shooting indiscriminately at victims and firing through doors and windows, according to the police. Tuesday.

Monday’s violence at The Covenant School was the latest school shooting to rock the country and was carefully planned. The shooter had drawn a detailed map of the school, including possible entry points, and had been monitoring the building before committing the massacre, authorities said.

The suspect, Audrey Hale, 28, was a former student of the school. Hale did not target specific victims — including three 9-year-olds and the school principal — but did target “this school, this meetinghouse,” police spokesman Don Aaron said at a news conference Tuesday.

Hale was under medical treatment for an undisclosed emotional disorder and was not known to police before the attack, Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at the news conference.

If police had been told Hale was suicidal or homicidal, “we would have tried to get those guns,” Drake said. “But as it stands, we had absolutely no idea who this person was or if (Hale) even existed.”

Tennessee does not currently have a “red flag” law, which allows police to step in and take firearms from people at risk of killing.

Hale legally purchased seven firearms from five local gun stores, Drake said. Three of them were used in Monday’s shooting.

Hale’s parents believed their child sold one gun and didn’t own another, Drake said, adding that Hale had “hidden several guns around the house.”

Hale’s motive is unknown, Drake said. In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Drake said investigators don’t know what drove Hale, but that the shooter “had some resentment about having to go to that school.”

Drake described at Tuesday’s press conference “several writings by Hale” that mention other locations and The Covenant School.

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Police have released videos of the shooting, including edited surveillance footage showing the gunman’s car driving to the school, glass doors being shot open and the gunman ducking through one of the doors.

An additional video, from Officer Rex Engelbert’s bodycam, shows a woman meeting police outside as they arrive and telling them that all the children were locked up, “but we have two children that we don’t know where they are.”

The woman then sends officers to Fellowship Hall, saying that people inside had just heard gunshots. Three officers, including Engelbert, search rooms one by one, guns in hand, and report as police.

The video shows officers climbing the stairs to the second floor and entering a lobby, followed by a barrage of gunfire and an officer yelling twice, “Get your hands off the gun.” Then the shooter is shown motionless on the floor.

Police identified Engelbert, a four-year-old member of the police force, and Michael Collazo, a nine-year-old member, as the officers who fatally shot Hale.

Aaron said no police were present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because it is a church-run school.

Police response times to school shootings have come under scrutiny after the attack in Uvalde, Texas, in which 70 minutes passed before law enforcement stormed the classroom. In Nashville, police have said 14 minutes elapsed between the initial call and when the suspect was killed, but have not said how long it took them to arrive.

Surveillance video shows a time stamp of just before 10:11 a.m., when the attacker blasted out the doors. Police said they received a call about a gunman at 10:13 a.m. The edited bodycam footage does not contain any timestamps. A police spokesperson on Tuesday did not respond to an email asking when they arrived.

During the press conference, Drake did not directly answer a question about the number of minutes the police arrived. At about 10:24 a.m., 11 minutes after the call was received, officers engaged the suspect, he said.

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“There were police cars that had been hit by gunfire. Gunfire was heard as officers approached the building,” Drake said.

“We feel, our reaction at the moment, from what I’ve seen, I don’t have a particular problem with it. But we always want to get better. We always want to be there in two or three minutes,” he said, adding that traffic was “closed” at the time.

Traffic was indeed halted along a nearby two-lane road with a turn-off lane as police tried to make their way to the school.

Police have provided unclear information about Hale’s gender. For hours on Monday, police identified the shooter as a woman. Later that day, the police chief said Hale was transgender. After the press conference, Aaron refused to elaborate on how Hale identified himself.

In an email Tuesday, police spokesman Kristin Mumford said Hale was “assigned female at birth. Hale used masculine pronouns on a social media profile. Later Tuesday, during the press conference, Drake referred to Hale with feminine pronouns.

Authorities identified the dead children as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. The adults were 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 principal of the school. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has been running the school since July 2016. According to investigators, Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a custodian.

Koon was remembered as someone who would run towards danger, not away from it.

“I guarantee that if any children were missing (during the shoot), Katherine was looking for them,” friend Jackie Bailey said. And that’s probably how she got in the way — just trying to do something for someone else. She would give up her own life to save someone else’s.”

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Founded as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, the school is located in the affluent neighborhood of Green Hills, just south of downtown Nashville. It has about 200 pupils from kindergarten to sixth grade and about 50 staff.

President Joe Biden said he had spoken with the police chief, mayor and senators in Tennessee. He pleaded with Congress to pass stricter gun safety laws, including a ban on “assault weapons.”

“Congress must act,” Biden said. “The majority of the American people think having assault weapons is bizarre, it’s a crazy idea. They are against that.”

Before Monday’s violence in Nashville, there had been seven mass murders at K-12 schools since 2006 that killed four or more people in a 24-hour period, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in collaboration with Northeastern University. In all cases, the shooters were men.

The database does not include school shootings that killed fewer than four people, which have become much more common in recent years. Last week alone, for example, school shootings occurred within two days of each other in Denver and the Dallas area.


Contributors to this report were Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia, John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, and Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles.

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