NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A heavily armed intruder shot three students and three staff members to death at a small, Christian elementary school in Nashville early Monday, police said.
Officers engaged and killed the shooter at the private Covenant School, Nashville police spokesperson Don Aaron said. The shooter was 28-year-old Audrey Hale of Nashville, Metro Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake said at a late-afternoon news conference.
Authorities described the assault as preplanned. They said the attacker had maps of the school and gained access by shooting a door open.
Drake said Hale was a student at the school at some point, but he didn’t know when. He also said officers found a vehicle nearby that provided clues to who the shooter was.
This was the nation’s 89th shooting in a K-12 school this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, on the heels of the Uvalde, Texas, school assault that left 21 dead last year.
“I was literally moved to tears to see this and the kids as they were being ushered out of the building,” Drake said.
Police identified the victims as Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs, all of them age 9, and Mike Hill, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Cynthia Peak, 61. The Tennessean said Koonce was the school’s headmaster. Drake said later one of the children was 8 and about to turn 9 but did not specify who.
Three children and two adults were taken to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with gunshot wounds, and all five were pronounced dead there, said Craig Boerner, spokesperson for Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The sixth victim was not taken to the hospital, Aaron said.
The shooter was armed with at least two “assault-type rifles” and a handgun, Aaron said. Officials were in the process of identifying the shooter and the victims, he said.
“This is the ultimate crime, when schoolchildren and caregivers are the victims of senseless gun violence,” Glenn Funk, Davidson County District Attorney General, said in a news conference.
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The shooter entered through a side entrance of the school and went to the second floor “firing multiple shots,” Aaron said.
All doors were locked, and officers were investigating how she entered through the side door, Drake said.
Police received a call of an active shooter at 10:13 a.m., Aaron said. Officers responded “swiftly,” entered the first floor and began clearing the area, he said. They “immediately went to the gunfire,” he said.
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Two of the five officers on the floor opened fire on the shooter and killed her by 10:27 a.m., Aaron said. She was in a “lobby-type area,” not a classroom, Aaron said.
Kendra Loney, a spokesperson with Metro Fire, said rescue crews responded and tried to save lives.
The remaining students were escorted out of the building with faculty and staff, and buses took them to a site where students were being reunited with their parents, Loney said. “We’re sure that they heard the chaos that was surrounding this,” she said.
One police officer had a hand injury from cut glass, Loney and Aaron said. No one else was wounded, Aaron said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will assist the Metro Nashville Police Department in the investigation, said TBI Director David Rausch. Officials with the FBI and special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene.
President Joe Biden referred to the shooting as a “sick” act and reiterated his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.
“We have to do more to stop gun violence,” he said. “It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping at the very soul of the nation. We have to do more to protect our schools so they aren’t turned into prisons.”
First lady Jill Biden commented on the attack during her opening remarks at a National League of Cities event in Washington. “I am truly without words, and our children deserve better,” she said. “We stand, all of us, with Nashville in prayer.”
The Covenant School is a private school founded in 2001 that serves students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, according to its website. On a given day, slightly over 200 students and 42 staff members are at the school, Aaron said.
The school is on the campus of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the city’s Green Hills neighborhood, about 9 miles southeast of downtown Nashville. It’s next door to a Nashville Fire Department station and less than a mile south of Nashville’s largest shopping district.
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Because a church operates the private school, no Nashville police officers were assigned to the building, Aaron said. Officers were reviewing video from the school, he said.
At the scene, scores of parents and onlookers gathered in a parking lot awaiting updates, as helicopters circled the area, surrounded by a residential and busy businesses district.
Parents were lining up in the sanctuary of Woodmont Baptist Church to give first and last names of their children to police.
Vice Mayor Jim Shulman was in the sanctuary passing out bottled water to parents and family members.
Officials said children would be arriving on school buses with their teachers.
89th shooting on school grounds this year
The attack marks the 89th shooting on K-12 school grounds in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. Last week, a 17-year-old student shot and wounded two faculty members at a high school in Denver.
There have been 130 mass shootings in the U.S. this calendar year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as at least four people injured.
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Illinois resident Ashbey Beasley was on vacation and about a block away from the school when she heard shots Monday morning. Beasley, who was at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park last summer when a gunman opened fire, ran over to the scene.
“Aren’t you tired of this,” she said, taking over the microphones after a news conference. “How is this still happening?”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he was “closely monitoring the tragic situation.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper thanked first responders and medical professionals and said his “heart goes out to the families of the victims.” He wrote on Twitter: “In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting.”
Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn said she was “heartbroken to hear about the shooting.” She wrote on Twitter: “My office is in contact with federal, state, & local officials, & we stand ready to assist. Thank you to the first responders working on site. Please join us in prayer for those affected.”
Adrienne Battle, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, said she was “grieving today over the tragic murder of children and school staff right here in our community,” calling the killings an “unimaginable loss of life.”
“We don’t know all of the details of how or why this happened, and we may never fully know,” Battle said. “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.”
Contributing: Chris Gadd, Rachel Wegner, Kirsten Fiscus and Craig Shoup, Nashville Tennessean