NASHVILLE – Hundreds gathered Wednesday night for the citywide vigil to mourn for the three children and three adults who were killed at The Covenant School in Nashville earlier this week.
The crowd of mourners stood shoulder-to-shoulder holding small white candles as speaker after speaker honored the six victims. First lady Jill Biden visited Covenant earlier and stood alongside the rest of the vigil’s attendees.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper stepped up to the podium first.
“Just two days ago was our city’s worst day,” Cooper said. “… I so wish we did not need to be here, but we need to be here — together as a community.”
To the grieving parents, friends and family, Cooper said they’re not alone. “A grieving city joins you,” he said. “A grieving country.”
Cooper was joined by Metro Council member Russ Pulley, State Rep. Rev. Harold Love Jr., Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake, Nashville Fire Chief William Swann, and Rev. Clay Stauffer of Woodmont Christian Church.
Each speaker echoed the names of the victims and offered their condolences.
Mourners applauded the Nashville police officers who were hailed as heroes for their swift response to the deadly shooting at the Christian elementary school in Green Hills.
“Parents sent their children to school on Monday morning expecting them to return home like any other day,” said Pulley, who represents the Green Hills neighborhood. “Unfortunately, three of those children and three staff members did not. Members of the Covenant staff laid down their lives attempting to protect the children in their care.”
Before the vigil began, attendees had gathered at the grass plaza in downtown Nashville early and many reflected on the incident and its aftermath.
“We’re all united to stop hate in this state … it’s going to start here,” said Devon Stewart, a 36-year-old nurse and transgender man. “You stop hate by loving your neighbor.”
As the plaza emptied at the end of the vigil, a group of people dressed in black gathered for a “mourners walk.” Before they left, they paused to recognize the 146 Tennesseans killed by gun violence since January.
– Thao Nguyen
Contributing: The Tennesseean
►The White House is making plans for President Joe Biden to travel to Nashville in the wake of the shooting, he told reporters Wednesday. “As a nation, we owe these families more than our prayers,” he said Tuesday in North Carolina. “We owe them action.”
►Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday delayed hearing a number of proposed firearms bills, drawing criticism from some gun safety advocates.
Two police officers are being hailed as heroes for their role in ending the shooting rampage at a local Christian elementary school that left three young children and three staff members dead.
Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo are the officers whose body camera videos from inside The Covenant School were released by the Metro Nashville Police Department. They were among dozens of Metro Nashville police who descended on the building after the first 911 call came in at 10:13 a.m. Monday – an active shooter was roaming the school’s halls.
The shooter, 28-year-old former Covenant student Audrey Hale, was dead less than 15 minutes later. Police have said the attack was “calculated and planned.”
The body camera footage shows Engelbert armed with a rifle, taking the lead in the line of officers clearing the school. Engelbert fired at least three shots at Hale, authorities said. Following closely behind Engelbert was Collazo, who fired four rounds at Hale. Read more about the officers below.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake told CNN on Wednesday morning that law enforcement recovered a notebook belonging to the shooter with approximately 60 pages in it. It was not immediately clear how many pages contained writings, he said.
“We’re still in the deep phases of investigation,” he said.
Law enforcement was never contacted regarding Hale, who was being treated for an “emotional disorder” but was never “committed” to an institution, Drake said. The attacker may have had “some resentment” toward the school, which he once attended, but law enforcement has not confirmed that, he said.
– Grace Hauck
Maria Colomy, a former teacher at the Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville, recalled Hale as a talented artist while a student in Colomy’s social media class in 2017. Colomy remembered Hale “going above and beyond” on projects and being “one of the students I expected to have a job right away.”
Colomy said she saw postings on Facebook during the past year in which Hale wrote about the death of a romantic partner and asked to be called by a male name and male pronouns.
Hale had “been very publicly grieving” on Facebook, Colomy said. “It was during that grief (Hale) said, ’In this person’s honor, I am going to be the person who I want to be, and I want to be called Aiden.’”
– The Associated Press
Engelbert, 27, is a four-year veteran of the police department. He grew up in Chicago and graduated from Loyola Academy high school in 2014. Engelbert graduated from Ohio University of Dayton in 2018, where he played rugby and earned a degree in criminal justice. His brother, Kevin Engelbert, told NBC Chicago he was proud to hear of his brother’s heroism.
“My mom always taught us to be brave, and it’s almost not surprising to see that bravery come through,” Kevin Engelbert said. “I’ve known Rex to always be as brave as he is compassionate. And a gentle giant.”
Collazo, 31, has been on the force nine years. The Marine Corps veteran also responded to the Christmas 2020 bombing in Nashville, where Anthony Quinn Warner detonated a bomb downtown that took Warner’s life and injured eight bystanders. Police Chief John Drake said Collazo has trained as a paramedic with the SWAT team. His sister, Deanna Collazo DeHart, told told Fox News Digital her brother loves his job.
“I sit and think about all the training and all the different classes that he does, and all the family events that he’s had to miss because of training or leaving to go through this training or this class,” she said. “It all really does pay off.”
After tragedies like Monday’s school shooting, politicians sometimes make public statements that sound trite. That was not the case with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, whose family was directly affected.
Lee said his wife, Maria Lee, was longtime friends with two of the three adults killed at the Covenant School attack, substitute teacher Cindy Peak and head of school Katherine Koonce. The three had been teachers together at another school, and Peak was supposed to join Maria Lee for dinner Monday night.
The Republican governor called Monday’s events “a tragedy beyond comprehension.”
“All of Tennessee was hurt yesterday,” he said Tuesday night in a video address, “but some parents woke up without children, children woke up without parents and without teachers, and spouses woke up without their loved ones.
“Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends, Cindy Peak.”
– Melissa Brown, Nashville Tennessean
The slaughter of three schoolkids under age 10, along with three adults who worked at their school, will have no impact on the nation’s gun laws.
That’s the belief of lawmakers from both parties, who said that despite the latest high-profile mass murder, there’s hardly any chance President Joe Biden’s push to ban assault weapons will make it through a divided Congress.
As with so many similar instances in a country where mass shootings have become commonplace, calls for sweeping gun reform at the federal level is expected to be followed by inaction. Republican opposition to tighter gun regulation remains staunch, and not all Democrats are on board. Biden said he has done all he can through executive action.
“We’re not gonna fix it,” U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., told reporters Monday. “Criminals are going to be criminals.”
– Joey Garrison
Hale was already in the school parking lot when he sent chilling messages to a friend minutes before the attack. Averianna Patton was talking on the phone Monday at 9:57 a.m. when she saw an unusual message from Hale, her middle school basketball teammate.
“I’m planning to die today,” Hale wrote. “You’ll probably hear about me on the news.”
The messages, which Patton shared with Newschannel5, make no mention of killing others. Patton responds by trying to persuade Hale not to harm himself. Patton also called a suicide hotline, which directed her to the police nonemergency number. Patton called police at about the time the shooting started and was put on hold for seven minutes.
“I’m just numb right now,” Patton said. “I have literally mind-blowing moments like, ‘What in the world?'” Read more here.
– Cassandra Stephenson, The Tennessean
When children were fleeing The Covenant School as a shooter roamed the hallways, actress Melissa Joan Hart and her husband happened to be driving by. Hart’s children go to school near the Covenant School and she was on her way there for a parent-teacher conference, she said in an Instagram video posted Tuesday. Hart said she and her husband helped a class of kindergarteners cross a busy road.
“They were climbing out of the woods. They were trying to escape the shooter situation at their school,” she said, fighting back tears. “So we helped all these tiny, little, little kids cross the road and get their teachers over there and we helped a mom reunite with her children.” Read more here.
Former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson East said on her Instagram account that her children’s Nashville school went on lockdown minutes after the shooting at Covenant. She said her children, Drew, 3, and Jett, 1, were safe and she and her husband, Andrew East – a former NFL player who played college ball at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University – had retrieved them from their school
“I haven’t been able to catch my breath since reading the news and getting a call from our school that they were on lockdown,” East wrote in the Monday posting. “Shaking. Crying. Heartbroken. Horrific.” Read more here.
The Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins took a moment to remember the victims Tuesday night. The Predators released a statement ahead of the matchup at Boston’s TD Garden, saying the team was moving forward with a “heavy hearts.”
The team also shared that Charlie Jacobs, Bruins CEO, donated to the Caring for Covenant Fund in response to the Nashville tragedy. Both teams’ helmets featured custom decals with the Covenant School logo.
“We are at a loss for words as all of the Nashville and Middle Tennessee community mourns these innocent lives,” the team said in the statement. Read more here.
– Dani Mohr, The Tennessean
Contributing: Joey Garrison, USA TODAY