Editor’s note: This story discusses suicide and self-harm. If you or a loved one are at risk, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support at 988 or 1-800-273-8255.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The shooter accused of killing three children and three adults at a Nashville elementary school on Monday sent chilling messages to a friend minutes before the attack.
Averianna Patton was talking on the phone Monday morning when she saw an unusual message from Audrey Hale, her middle school basketball teammate. It was 9:57 a.m.
“I’m planning to die today … You’ll probably hear about me on the news,” Hale wrote.
Patton said she tried to comfort Hale while sending screenshots of the Instagram messages to her father. Patton called the Suicide Prevention Helpline as her father suggested at 10:08 a.m.
At 10:11 a.m., 28-year-old Hale shattered the glass doors of the Covenant School and walked down the hall armed with two AR-style rifles and a handgun. Hale shot and killed three 9-year-old students and three adult staff members before responding police officers fatally shot Hale.
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When Patton saw the news later, she was shocked.
“I would have never imagined — not what I’m seeing on that TV,” Patton said.
Hale’s last messages sent minutes before school breech
Hale, a former Covenant student, pulled into the school’s parking lot. Nashville police said Hale planned the attack, leaving behind drawings of detailed maps of the building and points of entry. Hale was under a doctor’s care for an emotional disorder, police later determined, but had no criminal history.
Hale messaged Patton while already on Covenant School property, apologizing and stating he wanted to die. The messages were first reported by NewsChannel 5.
Hale, who police said identified as transgender and used male pronouns on social media, told Patton a post he made on March 13 was really a suicide note.
Patton knew Hale had shared suicidal thoughts with other former teammates in the past.
“Something in me was like, ‘No, you need to help. Do something,'” Patton said.
At the advice of the Suicide Prevention Helpline, she called the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office at 10:13 a.m. The office directed her to Nashville’s non-emergency phone number, and Patton called at 10:14 a.m.
She spent about seven minutes on hold before the dispatcher took down her information and said they would send someone to Patton’s home.
They didn’t arrive until around 3:29 p.m., she said.
‘I’m just numb right now’
Patton played basketball with Hale when they attended Isaiah T. Cresswell Middle School of the Arts.
Hale was timid at first, Patton said. The team was close-knit, but Patton didn’t spend time with Hale outside of school or sports. They both went on to attend high school at Nashville School of the Arts and kept in contact over the years through Instagram posts and comments, but they didn’t talk regularly.
Patton thought of herself as a sort of “big sister.”
Hale never talked to Patton about Covenant — in fact, Patton didn’t know Hale had attended the school.
As an adult, Hale was supportive of Patton’s local journalism career, sometimes attending Patton’s hosting events or TV tapings or creating Instagram posts featuring Patton’s photos paired with quotes or inspirational messages.
Patton last saw Hale earlier this month at a celebration of life for another former teammate who died in a car crash in August 2022.
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“I’m just numb right now … I have literally mind blowing moments like, what in the world,” Patton said. “I’m literally taking every second at a time.”
Patton said she’s praying for the victims’ families and all those impacted.
She would like the community to have a clearer process in place for getting help when people “scream out” or share suicidal thoughts. People may not think about what they would do in a situation like that.
“It doesn’t hit you until it’s you,” Patton said.