A 28-year-old shot dead three nine-year-old children and three staff members in a devastating mass shooting at a Christian elementary school in Nashville on 27 March.
Audrey Hale, a former student, entered The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, just after 10am.
Inside, the shooter opened fire on students and staff, killing six victims. Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all aged nine, Head of School Katherine Koonce, 60, Cynthia Peak, 61, and Mike Hill, 61, all died in the attack.
Two responding police officers then shot Hale dead.
Over the course of their investigation, officers have discovered manifesto writings and apparent research into the facilities and entry points at Covenant, but parents at the school want to keep the writings sealed, citing the threat of copycat attacks.
As a judge is expected to rule this week on the parents’ motion, here’s what we know about Hale:
Who was the shooter in the Nashville attack?
Nashville police said on Monday the shooter was 28-year-old Audrey Elizabeth Hale.
Police have identified the suspected shooter by their name at birth; Hale reportedly was a transgender man who used he/him pronouns, though law enforcement officials initially described the suspect as a woman in the aftermath of the shooting. Police did not provide another name but on the suspect’s social media accounts they refer to themselves as Aiden.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said in a press conference hours after the shooting that Hale once attended the Christian elementary school.
An illustrator and graphic designer who attended Nossi College of Art, Hale had no criminal record prior to Monday’s massacre and was not known to law enforcement.
During a press conference on Tuesday (28 March), Chief Drake said investigators discovered Hale had been treated for mental health challenges prior to the shooting.
“She was under care, doctor’s care, for an emotional disorder,” he said.
“Her parents felt that she should not own weapons.”
The police chief said that Hale’s parents were aware the suspect had purchased one firearm, but believed it had since been sold.
In reality, the 28-year-old had legally purchased seven firearms from five different local stores – three of which were used in Monday’s shooting – and hid them in the family home.
Despite her mental health concerns, there is no red flag law in Tennessee that could have been used to take away Hale’s firearms. Meanwhile, Hale’s parents were unaware of the stash so had not reported them either.
“We had absolutely no idea” Hale was a danger to the community, the chief said.
Neighbours revealed their shock at the attack, describing Hale as a normal “quiet” person, from a family without any apparent interest in guns.
“If I had to imagine, Audrey’s parents are probably just as shocked as everybody in the neighborhood is…It just doesn’t seem real,” Sean Brashears told The Daily Beast in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
“There’s nothing that would have led me to believe that she was capable of such a thing or that she or anybody in that family would have access to, much less ever used, a gun. They just don’t seem like the family that, like, is around guns. They’re not talking about going to a gun range or they’re not going hunting.”
Another neighbour Sandy Durham said: “I do know Audrey, I’ve known her since she was a baby. I had just gotten out of the shower when all of this started happening. I didn’t really know anything more than that. Something was going on next door. It’s just tragic for everybody. The sweet children that were hurt, killed, the adults. All of it.”
Asked if there were any warning signs, she said: “Never. She was very sweet. I don’t know what happened. It’s very scary.”
Another neighbour described Hale as coming from a “great family.”
“This is a great family and it’s a tragedy,” they told NBC News.
A LinkedIn account and website show Hale was an illustrator and graphic designer based in Nashville. The account says Hale was working for AH Illustrations and had previously been an illustrator at Nossi College of Art. It also mentions jobs with Grocery Shopper and as a cat sitter.
How did the shooting unfold?
On Monday (27 March) morning, Hale’s parents said they saw Hale leaving the family home with a red bag.
They asked what the bag contained but didn’t think anything of it because they didn’t believe Hale had any firearms.
Not long after 10am, Hale arrived on the school campus in her Honda Fit, with security footage capturing the vehicle driving through the parking lot to the building.
Children can be seen playing on swings in the background of the footage.
Surveillance footage then shows Hale shooting through the glass of a side door on the first floor of Covenant, then ducking through one of the shattered doors to gain entry.
The shooter is seen stalking the school corridors with a gun with a long barrel, including walking into a room labelled “church office”, then coming back out.
Police said Hale opened fire on students and staff, killing six.
The first call to 911 about shots being fired came in at 10.13am, police said.
When officers rushed to the campus, the shooter opened fire on arriving police cars from a window on the second floor.
Chief Drake said at a Tuesday (28 March) press conference that investigators “believe there has been some training to have been able to shoot from a higher level” down onto the officers.
“From the video I’ve seen [Hale] stood away from the glass so [the suspect] wouldn’t be an easy target to be shot,” he said.
Officers entered the building and began clearing the building, police said.
While clearing the building, officers heard shots fired on the second level and moved to the second-floor common area where they encountered Hale, fatally shooting the assailant, police said.
Bodycam footage captured the officers searching for the shooter in the school.
The officers moved from classroom to classroom, clearing each room while searching for the assailant, as sirens and emergency alarms ring out overheard.
While clearing the rooms, gunshots are heard being fired elsewhere in the elementary school building.
The officers then encounter Hale in front of a window in the atrium on the second floor of the school.
The 28-year-old former student is then shot dead by two veteran officers.
The tragedy unfolded over roughly 14 minutes.
What was the motive in the Nashville shooting?
On Tuesday (28 March), police confirmed that they have still not determined the motive for the attack.
However, the investigation has revealed the killer's elaborate planning and said that – as a former student – Hale “had some history there” at the school.
Hale targeted the school but is not believed to have targeted individuals at the school.
The shooter had drawn a detailed map of the building and conducted surveillance before carrying out the massacre, police said.
"We have a manifesto, we have some writings that we're going over that pertain to this date, the actual incident," the police chief told reporters. "We have a map drawn out of how this was all going to take place."
He said in an interview with NBC News that investigators believe the killer had "some resentment for having to go to that school".
Writings recovered from Hale also revealed that the attack was calculated and planned.
Chief Drake told CBS Mornings on Tuesday (28 March) that Hale had left behind a “cartoon” plan of the massacre and detailed maps of the scene as part of a “manifesto”.
“We have a manifesto, we have a booklet, that shows the exactly what she had planned to do,” he said.
“We have maps that show the entry point into the school, the weapons that were going to be used, the clothing that she was gonna wear, and she had drawn it up, almost like a cartoon character. It was exactly what she had on during this incident.”
He added: “What detectives have said so far is there’s possibly some resentment for having to go to that school.”
Multiple attacks planned
Based on some maps found at Hale’s home, the police chief said that Hale was believed to be planning to carry out other attacks on a local mall and targeting family members.
“We strongly believe there was going to be some other targets, including maybe family members, and one of the malls here in Nashville,” he said on Tuesday,
“And that just did not happen.”
He previously said that more than one location had been planned for – but that it appeared Hale decided against a second location due to heightened security there.
Also at Hale’s home, authorities seized a sawed-off shotgun, a second shotgun, and other evidence, police said.
Investigators have also spoken with Hale’s parents. Hale had no prior criminal record.
What kind of weapons were used?
Hale was armed with three guns including two assault-type weapons – an AR-style rifle and an AR-style pistol – and one handgun.
“We know that she was armed with at least two assault-type rifles and a handgun,” a police spokesperson said during a press briefing.
Officials said that at least two of the three weapons used in the shooting were believed to have been bought legally in Nashville.
Nashville Police released images of the weapons used in the attack.
The guns were decorated with stickers, while one of the rifles had the word “hell” written on it.
Images of Hale’s abandoned car and the school’s smashed glass door which they believe the suspect fired through to make entry were also released.
Nashville police said the Hale family was aware the 28-year-old owned a weapon, but felt he should “not own weapons” and believed Hale had sold it.
In fact, Hale had secretly obtained seven guns legally from five stores in the Nashville area,according to police.
What has Hale’s family said about the shooting?
Norma Fort Hale, Audrey’s mother, had previously posted on social media after school shootings and called for more gun control.
Ms Hale, whose social media profile lists her as an employee of a Nashville-based chapel, shared links on Facebook to a Sandy Hook Promise petition to “keep guns out of schools” back in 2018, calling the pledge “so important”.
The posts, seen by The Independent, appear to have since been taken down.
The Independent was not able to reach Ms Hale for comment. A number linked to her name via public records appears to have been disconnected.
Ms Hale appears to have confirmed that Audrey was involved in the shooting.
“It’s very difficult now, we ask for privacy,” she told ABC News. “I really can’t talk right now, I think I lost my daughter today.”
Were there any warning signs?
In the months leading up to the shooting, Hale became “infatuated” with a late schoolmate and repeatedly posted about the woman online in the months, according to a friend.
Hale’s former classmate Samira Hardcastle has spoken out about the impact that the sudden death of Sydney Sims appears to have had on the 28-year-old.
Sims, a 27-year-old former basketball teammate of Hale, was involved in a head-on car crash last August in Nashville, Tennessee. The crash killed another woman before Sims died one week later from her injuries.
An online obituary for Sims reveals Hale had left a message and sent a gift to the family.
“With much love to the family, I will miss my dear friend Sydney forever. Rise up Queen, You are Free!” Hale wrote.
Members of Sims’s family declined to comment to The Independent.
Ms Hardcastle, who attended Isaiah T. Creswell Middle School of the Arts and the Nashville School of the Arts with both Hale and Sims, told NBC News that Hale seemed to struggle to cope in the aftermath of Sims’ death.
However, she said that she does not believe Hale and Sims were close – instead believing that Hale “admired” and was “infatuated” with Sims.
“Audrey definitely admired Sydney,” said Ms Hardcastle.
She told The New York Post that Hale was posting about Sims’ death on social media almost every day.
“After Sydney’s tragic death, Audrey was really heartbroken over it … I just feel like she took it differently than some of us did. She was still posting about Sydney almost daily,” she said. “What I knew of her was more admiring [Sydney]. Maybe even infatuation. That’s specifically who she really, really looked up to.”
In one TikTok video – which has since been taken down – Hale reportedly posted a clip of a person bouncing a basketball, along with a dedication “to Syd”.
A former teacher also confirmed she had seen some of Hale’s social media posts where the soon-to-be school shooter repeatedly spoke about Sims’ death.
“A lot of comments about ‘you were all that mattered’ [and] ‘I’ll miss you forever,’ etc.,” Maria Colomy, Hale’s art instructor at the Nossi College of Art & Design, told NBC News.
Ms Colomy told The New York Times that the shooter was “openly grieving” someone she appeared to regard as a romantic partner on Facebook. Hale had announced the bereavement and asked to be addressed as Aiden and by masculine pronouns from then on, she said.
Then, just minutes before the shooting unfolded, Hale sent some chilling final messages to another former teammate, issuing a dark warning that “something bad is about to happen”.
Hale sent a series of direct messages to friend Averianna Patton via Instagram on Monday (27 March) morning.
In the harrowing messages sent at 9.57am, Hale revealed plans to die by suicide telling Ms Patton “this is my last goodbye” and that she would soon be reading about it “on the news after I die”.
“One day this will make more sense,” Hale wrote.
“I’ve left behind more than enough evidence behind. But something bad is about to happen.”
Just 16 minutes later – at 10.13am – law enforcement received the first 911 call reporting shots fired inside The Covenant School.
In the messages, shared with NewsChannel 5, Hale wrote: “So basically that post I made on here about you, that was basically a suicide note.
“I’m planning to die today. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!!!
“You’ll probably hear about me on the news after I die.”
She continued: “This is my last goodbye. I love you [heart emoji] See you again in another life. Audrey (Aiden).”
Ms Patton, a former middle school basketball teammate of Hale who shared the messages with NewsChannel5, responded telling her friend “you have so much more life to live”.
Hale wrote back saying that “I just need to die” and that “my family doesn’t know what I’m about to do”.
Ms Patten told NewsChannel 5 that she contacted the Suicide Prevention Help Line at 10.08am to try to get her friend help.
“Audrey has shared with others that she had been suicidal in the past and I knew to take this serious,” Ms Patton said.
Then, at 10.13am, Ms Patton said she called the Nashville Davidson County Sheriff’s Office to tell them about the situation.
She said she was told to contact Nashville’s non-emergency number.
That very same minute, her former teammate was allegedly carrying out a mass shooting at the elementary school.
“I called Nashville’s non-emergency line at 10.14am and was on hold for nearly seven minutes before speaking with someone who said that they would send an officer to my home,” she said.
At 3.29pm, an officer finally came to her home to speak to her, she said.
By that point, she had learned from the news and from friends what Hale had done. Ms Patton told CNN she was not close to Hale and they had barely been in contact since school.
“After phone calls from friends and Audrey’s name was released as the shooter at Covenant Nashville school, I learned that Audrey was the shooter and that she had reached out to me prior to the shooting,” Ms Patton said.
“My heart is with all of the families affected and I’m devastated by what has happened.”
Ms Patton said that she believes there could have been more urgency from authorities when she contacted them about the chilling messages from Hale.
Shooter’s disturbing art
Disturbing artwork created by the Nashville school shooting suspect has come to light as police revealed that the killer drew a “cartoon” outlining the attack.
Hale ran an art website called AH Illustrations.
Hale’s work showcased on the website ranges from the disturbing to the childlike, including a creepy drawing of Jack Nicholson in horror movie The Shining.
Chillingly, the word “MURDER” is scrawled backwards across the disturbing image, a reference to the movie.
There’s also a whole section titled “Mad World” which is filled with sprawling patterns and – perhaps more eerie given the age of Hale’s victims – there’s a whole trove of childlike images.
Drawings of a smiling multicolour turtle and a teddy bear duck dressed in a scarf wouldn’t look out of place in an elementary school, like the one Hale allegedly terrorised before being shot dead by police.
Another image on the website appears to show Hale’s feet with the phrase “To be a kid forever and ever” across it – as Hale is now accused of killing three small children.
The website also features a self-portrait of “Audrey the Artist” alongside a bio which describes the soon-to-be school shooter as “on a mission to change the world”.
Hale writes that “I am a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer who creates logos for businesses”.
The mass killer’s illustrative style is self-described as “whimsical” and with a “light-hearted feel”.
Audrey Hale’s artwork included this drawing with ‘murder’ spelled backwards
“Aside from art, I enjoy binging on video games, watching movies, and playing sports. There is a child-like part about me that loves to go run to the playground. Animals are my second passion, so I also enjoy spending time with my two cats,” Hale wrote on the website.
Hale, who went to art school in Nashville, is said to have used those creative skills to prepare for the mass shooting as police found a “cartoon” plan of the massacre.
What happens next?
The Metro Nashville Police Department is leading the investigation into the shooting, with assistance from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Reacting to the latest bloodshed in an epidemic of gun violence turning US schools into killing zones, U.S. President Joe Biden urged Congress again to pass tougher gun reform legislation, including an assault weapons ban.
"We have to do more to stop gun violence," Biden said at the White House. "It's ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation."
Covenant parents have expressed their wish to keep the shooter’s writings sealed, citing the threat of copycat attacks. But a judge said they will have to wait until Wednesday to learn if their effort is on solid legal ground.
Plaintiffs — including journalists, a state senator, a law enforcement nonprofit and a gun-rights organization — have sued the city of Nashville to force the release after police denied their public records requests.
Authorities claimed the journals and other writings were protected from release as long as they’re part of an open investigation, but indicated they’d be made public at some point.
The parents of students, in their motion to intervene, called the writings “dangerous and harmful” and say “no good that can come from the release.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, the Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.