NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former student shot his way through the doors of a Christian elementary school Monday, killing three children and three adults after carrying out an elaborate plan to carry out the killing, which included a detailed map and surveillance of the site, police say.
The massacre at The Covenant School in this city was the latest in a series of mass shootings in a country increasingly nervous about school shootings.
The victims are three 9-year-old children, the school principal, a substitute teacher and a janitor. Amid the chaos erupted a series of now-familiar actions: terrified parents rushed to the school to see if their children were safe and tearfully hugged them, and a shocked community planned vigils for the victims.
“I was literally moved to tears to see this and the children being escorted out of the building,” John Drake, chief of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department, said at one of several news conferences.
Police gave unclear information about the gender of the attacker. For hours she said it was a 28-year-old woman and later identified her as Audrey Hale. Later, at an afternoon press conference, the police chief said that Hale was transgender. After the conference, police spokesman Don Aaron declined to elaborate on how Hale currently identified himself.
Drake would not disclose a specific motive for the attack when questioned by reporters, but he did give chilling details about his planning.
“We have a manifesto, we have some writings that we are reviewing and that refer to this day, to the incident as such,” he said. “We have a map that he drew for how all of this would play out.”
In an interview with NBC News, he said investigators believe Hale had “some resentment that he had to go to that school.”
The assailant entered the premises by shooting through the building’s glass doors, police later said in a tweet.
He was carrying two “assault-type” weapons and also a handgun, authorities said. He is believed to have obtained at least two of them legally in the Nashville area, according to the police chief.
The victims were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9 years old, and the adults Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.
The website for The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school founded in 2001, features one Katherine Koonce as its principal. Her LinkedIn profile says she has been running the institution since July 2016. Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a janitor, according to investigators.
The students held hands as they walked to school buses that took them to a nearby church to meet their parents.
Rachel Dibble, who was at the church as families reunited with their children, described the scene as “absolute shock”.
“People were shaking,” said Dibble, whose children attend another private school in Nashville. “The kids…started their day in their cute uniforms, probably had some Froot Loops for breakfast, and now their whole lives changed today.”
Communities across the United States have suffered from one massacre after another in recent years, with school shootings holding a particularly painful place.
Recent tragedies across the country include a massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last year; a first grader who shot his teacher in Virginia; and a shooting last week in Denver in which two administrators were injured.
At the White House, President Joe Biden called the shooting “a family’s worst nightmare” and again called on Congress to pass a ban on the possession of certain semi-automatic weapons.
“He is tearing at the soul of this nation, tearing at the very soul of this nation,” Biden said.
Later, the president ordered that the American flag be flown at half up in all federal buildings until March 31. He also contacted Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Nashville Mayor John Cooper to discuss the shooting, officials said.
Associated Press writers Kristin Hall in Nashville; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles; Beatrice Dupuy and Larry Fenn, in New York; and Lisa Baumann, in Bellingham, Wash., as well as AP investigators Randy Herschaft and Rhonda Shafner, contributed to this report.