The killer carried a red bag.
Hale’s parents, Norma and Ronald, had to be concerned. Hale had been under a doctor’s care for what police would later call an undisclosed “emotional disorder.”
The Hales would later tell police they had no idea seven guns were hidden in the house or that three of them would make it to the car that morning. They told police they didn’t believe Hale should have access to a gun.
Ignoring the question about the bag, Hale was off to kill school children.
Hale walked out of the brick, Tudor-style house in Nashville’s Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood and put the red bag in the car.
Hale didn’t plan on coming home.
Armed for destruction
Legally, and without the Hale family’s knowledge, according to police, Hale had purchased what appears to be a semi-automatic KelTec SUB2000 carbine rifle, which was engineered to fold in half so it can easily be concealed.
It weighs four pounds and costs between $600 and $900 depending on modifications. It can handle both 15- and 33-round magazines.
The weapon is currently under a recall because firing it can cause the barrel to rupture and, according to the manufacturer, “could result in serious personal injury. The safety of our customers is our primary concern.”
The safety of others was not mentioned.
The weapon was designed to fit inside a backpack or a shoulder bag.
The KelTec SUB2000, however, was not enough firepower for Hale.
Hale also put a Lead Star Arms Grunt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a Smith&Wesson M&P 9mm Shield EZ handgun in the car. All seven weapons had been legally purchased at five undisclosed Nashville-area stores.
The AR-15 had “Aiden” painted in white on its stock.
Hale had been using the name “Aiden” and he/him pronouns on social media in recent months, and police described Hale as transgender.
Arriving at Covenant
It is unclear which route Hale took Monday morning. The most direct way would take Hale just less than 10 minutes to drive 2.9 miles into Green Hills to The Covenant School. Hale had attended the school as a child.
Hale’s rolling arsenal, a four-door, gray Honda Fit with a yellow “Thrasher” sticker on the rear window traveled from Brightwood Drive. There were several other closer targets − Hillsboro High School, Lipscomb University, the Green Hills Mall − but Hale kept driving. Police said Hale may have considered other targets including a mall and school but have not yet disclosed locations.
Hale entered the Covenant Presbyterian Church parking lot at 9:53 a.m.
The Convenant School is attached to the church.
Hale slowly drove through the winding parking area, past the steepled, stone sanctuary, past the parking spaces designated for senior citizens, past the children playing on the swings.
The gray Honda parked in the rear part of the lot, leaving a bit of a walk to the school’s front doors.
A regular Monday
At 9:53 a.m., The Covenant School was in the midst of a regular Monday.
A vacuum cleaner sat idly inside the front door. A long row of cubbies in the front hallway were filled with jackets and backpacks. Children’s watercolor paintings on blue construction paper hung on the wall.
A decorative blue and white ringed life preserver hung on the wall outside Mrs. Chance’s classroom.
Many of the classrooms had inspirational words painted outside their doors. “Hope” in cursive. “Gratitude” in block letters.
Down the hall, children’s pictures were taped next to a rainbow leading to a picture of a pot of gold. Letters spelling “MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD” were taped to the wall.
It would be the last normal half hour of all their lives.
‘I’m planning to die today’
The killer paused in the parking lot and pulled out a phone.
Over the next 16 minutes, Hale sent at least one set of Instagram messages. The recipient was Averianna Patton, who was a middle school basketball teammate of Hale.
The second sentence of Hale’s message: “I’m planning to die today.”
“THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!! You’ll probably hear about me on the news after I die.”
“This is my last goodbye. I love you … See you again in another life.”
Hale signed the message: “Audrey (Aiden).”
The time stamp was 9:57 a.m.
Over the next 13 minutes, Hale exchanged more messages with Patton and strapped up.
Patton responded: “Audrey! You have so much more life to live. I pray God keeps and covers you.”
Hale sent four consecutive responses.
Hale’s last words: “Forgive me.”
Hale grabbed the two rifles, strapping one of them diagonally chest to waist. Hale carried enough ammunition to destroy any innocence Nashville had left.
Through shattered glass
The killer wore a red ball cap, backward, and glasses.
Hale’s T-shirt was white, pants were camouflage and shoes were blue Vans. Hale wore a black tactical vest.
Hale wore black, fingerless gloves.
At 10:10 a.m., Hale approached a door on the west side of the school, and fired about nine shots through the glass. Hale ducked through the shattered glass, passing a sign that said “Welcome Covenant Women.”
With Hale inside the school, an alarm began to blare. As part of the emergency system, lights flashed inside the brightly lit school.
At 10:12:05, a woman hiding under a desk in the nursery office made the first 911 call.
At 10:12:54 a.m., a unnamed woman called while hiding in an art classroom closet.
“It sounds like somebody is shooting guns,” the caller said.
A few seconds later: “I’m hearing more shots. Please hurry.”
Hale walked carefully through the hallways. Hale raised and lowered the weapon each time there was a sound or when Hale turned a corner.
Over the next 10 minutes, Hale stalked through the first and second floors of the school, killing three students and three staff members.
The police response
That first call to Metro Nashville police sent cars flying toward the school.
A white Metro Nashville squad car labeled 9088BB carrying Officer Rex Engelbert stopped in front of The Covenant School at 10:21 a.m.
From the radio, Engelbert heard: “Just got an update. It’s going to be first floor, main lobby.”
The four-year police veteran popped open his car’s trunk, unzipped a green duffel bag and pulled out an AR-15 rifle with a scope.
A woman wearing a pink lanyard waited on the sidewalk in front of the school.
“The kids are all locked down,” she said. “We have two kids … we don’t know where they are.”
Engelbert sized up the school. “Yes ma’am” is all he said.
Thirty eight seconds after arriving, Engelbert cocked his gun.
Engelbert stood at the entrance of the school shouting, “Gimme three. Let’s get three.”
Three officers joined him as he unlocked the glass door.
“Let’s go,” Engelbert said.
The hallway appeared empty, neat cubbies, clean floors. Engelbert and his team, without knowing the shooter’s whereabouts, pushed into a classroom.
The clock on the wall read: 10:23 a.m.
“Metro Police!” they shouted as they entered each room.
The desks were in rows, and there was no sign of distress anywhere … unless you count the absence of children.
And the blaring alarm.
The police moved quickly, from class to class, bathroom to bathroom.
Each class had an American flag.
Engelbert heard someone yell, “We don’t know where he is!”
He walked with his finger off the trigger.
Second floor standoff
The killer appeared to set up for a standoff in the second floor sitting area at the top of the stairs in front of the gothic arched window.
The wailing alarm had now been joined by a shrill, bleating second alarm sound.
There was furniture in the room, and a bookcase, but Hale didn’t use any of them for cover.
As the light poured in from the huge window, Hale stood exposed.
As the sound of police running and yelling instructions rang out, Hale fired a shot.
Now Engelbert knew where Hale was.
“It’s upstairs,” he said. “Sounds like it’s upstairs.”
The police flew toward the sound of the gunfire.
Second floor, top of the stairs, down a hallway, right turn.
Engelbert ran down a hallway with cutout penguins on the wall.
Officer Michael Collazo, a nine-year police veteran, also heard the shot and ran up the stairs. He was behind Engelbret, his service weapon pointed in front of him.
“Go. Stairs. Go. Stairs,” Collazo said.
Collazo and two other officers ran down the hallway. They saw the body of a victim on the floor.
“We got one down,” an officer said.
“Keep pushing,” Collazo said.
They ran past.
As Engelbert got closer, Hale was firing wildly. No officer was struck in the shooting.
There was a pause.
It was 10:25 a.m.
That’s when Rex Engelbert aimed his AR-15 and opened fire.
Three quick shots.
The killer dropped to the floor.
Hale’s weapon fell to the ground.
Another officer yelled, “STOP MOVING. GET YOUR HAND AWAY FROM THE GUN.”
Collazo stepped in front of the other officers and fired three shots.
As he ran toward Hale, Collazo continued to yell, “STOP MOVING.”
Collazo stood over Hale’s lifeless body.
“Suspect down,” he said.
The killer was alive inside The Covenant School for 15 minutes.
Less than four minutes passed from the time Engelbert cocked his gun, until Hale was dead.
Horrible memories, however, will last forever.
The school will now always be associated with the names of the victims: students Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9, Hallie Scruggs, 9, and William Kinney 9, as well as head of school Katherine Koonce, 60, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, and custodian Mike Hill, 61.
Editor’s note from The Tennessean, a member of the USA TODAY Network: This story is based on interviews, police accounts, 911 call recordings and a detailed review of surveillance video and body camera footage.