Three children and three staff shot dead by former student: What we know about Nashville school shooting

The shooting came as the US is recovering from several recent gun violence incidents at schools, including the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas last year

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
,Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 23 May 2023 19:26 BST
Nashville police confirm seven dead including shooter after Christian school shooting

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Three nine-year-old students and three staff members died after a shooting at a private Christian grade school in Nashville, Tennessee, on 27 March.

The suspect, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, was killed after being confronted and killed by police at The Covenant School in the Green Hills suburb of the city.

The shooting comes as the US is recovering from several recent gun violence incidents at schools, including the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas last year, a first-grade student shooting his teacher in Virginia, and a shooting in Denver, Colorado where two school administrators were wounded.

Here’s everything we know so far:

The shooting

Police were called shortly after 10am CT on Monday 27 March to an active shooter situation at the school, which is connected to a church.

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.

Surveillance footage shows the shooter stalking the school corridors
Surveillance footage shows the shooter stalking the school corridors (Metro Nashville PD)

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 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, released on 28 March, captured the officers searching for the shooter in the school.

The officers move from classroom to classroom, clearing each room while searching for the assailant, as sirens 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.

Nashville police bodycam footage shows officers responding to school
Nashville police bodycam footage shows officers responding to school (MNPD)

The tragedy unfolded over roughly 14 minutes.

Police said that Hale was armed with three guns including two assault-type weapons and one handgun. The guns were decorated with stickers, while one of the rifles had the word “hell” written on it.

The suspect

Nashville police said 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 after the carnage 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 the massacre and was not known to law enforcement.

During a press conference on 28 March, Chief Drake said investigators discovered Hale had been treated for mental health challenges prior to the shooting.

Audrey Hale is identified as the shooter
Audrey Hale is identified as the shooter (linkedin)

“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 the 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.

A friend has since revealed that Hale sent some chilling final messages just minutes before the shooting unfolded.

Hale issued a dark warning to friend Averianna Patton via Instagram on the morning of the attack that “something bad is about to happen” just minutes before the shooting unfolded.

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.

Audrey Hale’s friend says she received these messages minutes before the shooting
Audrey Hale’s friend says she received these messages minutes before the shooting (NewsChannel5 )

Ms Patten told NewsChannel 5 that she contacted the Suicide Prevention Help Line at 10.08am to try to get her friend help. She then contacted the police – but an officer didn’t pay her a visit until around 3.30pm that afternoon.

In the year before the shooting, it has emerged that Hale made a series of posts on Facebook about the death of someone Hale appeared to regard as a romantic partner, according to a former teacher.

Art college instructor Maria Colomy, who taught Hale at the Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville, recalled a Facebook post from the shooter “openly grieving” the individual – a former middle school basketball teammate.

Speaking to The New York Times, Ms Colomy said that Hale had announced the bereavement and asked to be addressed as Aiden and by masculine pronouns from then on.

“She had been openly grieving about that on social media, and during the grieving is when she announced that she wanted to be addressed as a male,” the teacher said.

Meanwhile, neighbours have 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.

“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 shows 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.

Hale’s disturbing artwork has now come to light, including a creepy drawing of Jack Nicholson in horror movie The Shining.

This comes as police revealed that the killer drew a “cartoon” outlining the attack.

The Victims

Students 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.

Koonce was The Covenant School’s headteacher. She ran towards the shooter before she was “assassinated” her in a hallway, it has been revealed.

Nashville City Councilman Russ Pulley told Fox News that Koonce, 60, was on a Zoom call when she learend that there was an active shooting. Mr Pulley said that the head of the school “immediately ended” the Zoom meeting and headed in the direction of the shooter.

Koonce’s body was found in a hallway of the school, according to Nashville Police Chief John Drake.

One parent was quoted as saying by the BBC that Koonce was a “saint”.

Nine-year-old Hallie Scruggs was the daughter of Chad Scruggs, a senior pastor at the Covenant Presbyterian Church
Nine-year-old Hallie Scruggs was the daughter of Chad Scruggs, a senior pastor at the Covenant Presbyterian Church (Family photo)

“She did so much for those kids,” a parent of a student said. “And now gave her life protecting them.”

“She knew every single student by name,” she said. “She did everything to help them when families couldn’t afford things, it didn’t matter. She found ways for them to stay.”

Dr Kristy Mall, an educator, said on social media she attended graduate school with Koonce, calling the killing “senseless.”

“We HAVE to revamp how we handle mental illness in TN [Tennesse],” she wrote on Twitter on 27 March.

Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a custodian, police said.

A woman who said she was Hill’s daughter said on Facebook that her father “absolutely loved” working at the school.

“We would like to thank the Nashville community for all the continued thoughts and prayers,” Hill’s family said in a statement. “As we grieve and try to grasp any sense of understanding of why this happened, we continue to ask for support. We pray for the Covenant School and are so grateful that Michael was beloved by the faculty and students who filled him with joy for 14 years. He was a father of seven children (Marquita Oglesby, Brittany Hill, Shakita Dobbins, Ebony Smith, Joshua Smith, Tawana Smith Garner, Jeremy Smith) and 14 grandchildren. He liked to cook and spend time with family.”

Nine-year-old Hallie Scruggs was the daughter of Chad Scruggs, a senior pastor at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, according to CBS News.

Meawhile, the sister of third-grade student Evelyn sobbed that “I don’t want to be an only child” at a vigil on Monday (27 March.)

Cynthia Peak (centre) in a photo shared by a family friend
Cynthia Peak (centre) in a photo shared by a family friend (Family friend/KALB)

In a video address on 28 March, Tennessee governor Bill Lee revealed that Tennessee first lady Maria Lee was close friends with Peak, and had plans to meet with her for dinner on the evening of the shooting

“What happened at Covenant School was a tragedy beyond comprehension,” the governorsaid.

“Like many of you, I’ve experienced tragedy in my own life, and I’ve experienced the day after that tragedy. I woke up this morning with a very familiar feeling, and I recognize that today many Tennesseans are feeling the exact same way — the emptiness, the lack of understanding, the desperate desire for answers and the desperate need for hope.”

The manifesto

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.

Over the course of their investigation, officers have discovered manifesto-like writings and apparent research into the facilities and entry points at Covenant.

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 just hours after the shooting. "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.

Covenant School Head of School Katherine Koonce, 60, was killed in the attack
Covenant School Head of School Katherine Koonce, 60, was killed in the attack (Covenant School)

Chief Drake told CBS Mornings on that Hale had left behind a “cartoon” plan of the massacre and detailed maps of the scene as part of a “manifesto”.

Also at Hale’s home, authorities seized a sawed-off shotgun, a second shotgun, and other evidence, police said.

Parents at Covenant have said it is their wish to keep the shooter’s writings sealed, citing the threat of copycat attacks. In their motion to intervene, they call the writings “dangerous and harmful” and say “no good that can come from the release.”

But a judge said they will have to wait until 24 May 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 have 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 school

The shooting took place at The Covenant School – the Presbyterian institution has around 200 students from preschool to sixth grade.

The school was founded in 2001 as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church, the school’s website states.

It’s located in Green Hills, southwest of downtown Nashville.

The school employs 33 teachers, according to the site, which includes the motto “Shepherding Hearts, Empowering Minds, Celebrating Childhood”.

The reaction

During an event in Washington, DC on the day of the shooting, First Lady Jill Biden said, “we just learned about another shooting in Tennessee. A school shooting. And I am truly without words. Our children deserve better. And we stand, all of us, we stand with Nashville in prayer”.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper tweeted, “in a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting”.

“My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you,” he added. “As facts continue to emerge, I thank our first responders and medical professionals.”

Jozen Reodica works in an office building in the area which went into lockdown as sirens blared.

“I thought I would just see this on TV,” she told the AP. “And right now, it’s real.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told the press that President Joe Biden has been briefed on the shooting. He’s calling on Congress to pass tougher gun laws.

Children from The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tenn., hold hands as they are taken to a reunification site at the Woodmont Baptist Church after a shooting at their school
Children from The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tenn., hold hands as they are taken to a reunification site at the Woodmont Baptist Church after a shooting at their school

“We want to express the President’s appreciation for the first responders and prayers for all the families affected by this shooting,” she said at the time. “While we don’t know yet all the details in this latest tragic shooting, we know that too often our schools and communities are being devastated by gun violence. Schools should be safe spaces for our kids to grow and learn and for our educators to teach.”

“We must do more. And he wants Congress to act because enough is enough,” she added.

“In his State of the Union, the president called on Congress to do something to stop the epidemic of gun violence, tearing families apart, tearing communities apart,” she said. “How many more children have to be murdered before Republicans in Congress will step up and act to pass the assault weapons ban to close loopholes in our background check system or to require the safe storage of guns.”

“We need to do something — once again the President calls on Congress to do something before another child is senselessly killed in a preventable act of gun violence,” she added.

“What we’re seeing today what we’re seeing in schools and communities across this country is unacceptable,” the press secretary said. “Our children should be able to go to school feeling safe, feeling protected. People should be able to go to grocery stores feeling safe. And what we saw today is devastating. It’s heartbreaking for any American any parent across the country or any American, and so that’s why this President has been very clear from day one, he is going to continue to fight for those communities.”

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, an anti-gun violence group, slammed Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

“Tennessee @GovBillLee hasn’t had time yet to tweet his thoughts and prayers for Covenant School, but when he does, remind him that this is exactly why police and citizens opposed the permitless carry bill he signed into law at a gun maker’s factory in 2021,” Ms Watts tweeted.

“SCHOOL SHOOTINGS ARE NOT ACTS OF NATURE,” she added. “They are senseless, preventable acts of man enabled by weak gun laws and lawmakers. This doesn’t have to be our new normal. Our children don’t have to be sacrificed in exchange for gun industry profits. We can stop this.”

Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greenetweeted: “My prayers are with the victims and families at the Covenant School in Nashville. Another absolutely horrific needless tragedy. Children and school staff should always be protected the same way politicians, money, precious stones, and gold are protected, but even more so, by good guys with guns.”

Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake speaks to the media following a mass shooting at Covenant School
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake speaks to the media following a mass shooting at Covenant School (AP)

“Thank God for good guys with guns and thank God a good guy with a gun killed the evil mentally deranged shooter today,” she added. “Joe Biden’s gun-free school zones have endangered children at schools leaving them as innocent targets of sick horrible disturbed people ever since he worked as a Senator to pass this foolish law. What a fool. What a failure.”

“Gun grabbers like Joe Biden and Democrats should give up their Secret Service protection and put themselves on the same level as our unprotected innocent precious children at school,” she said. “School shootings should NEVER happen and will end immediately when our nation’s children are defended the same way Joe Biden is by good guys with guns!!! End this now.”

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, 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 to find a helpline near you.

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