New details have emerged from Monday’s shooting in Nashville that left three children and three adults dead when an assailant targeted a Christian school, making it the latest American community to be rocked by the despair and trauma of gun violence. Police are searching for a motive.
At a news conference Tuesday, Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said authorities learned through interviews with the assailant’s parents that the shooter had legally purchased seven firearms from five local gun stores. Three were used in the attack at the Covenant School, Drake said.
The parents said the shooter, whom authorities identified as 28-year-old former student Audrey Hale, was “under doctor’s care for emotional disorder,” Drake said. “Law enforcement knew nothing about the treatment [the shooter] was receiving, but the parents felt [the shooter] should not own weapons.”
Drake said the assailant’s parents believed that the shooter had sold their only weapon and were unaware other weapons were hidden within the home. The attacker left their parents’ home on Monday carrying a red bag and dismissed questions about what was inside, Drake said. The shooter’s mother told police that because she didn’t know her child had additional firearms, she “didn’t think any differently.”
“If it had been reported that [the shooter] was suicidal or … was going to kill someone, had that been made known to us, then we would have tried to get those weapons,” Drake said. He did not explain what that would entail or how that might work legally.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization, Tennessee does not currently have an extreme risk law, also known as a red flag law, which allows law enforcement and family members to petition for a court order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. It does have a law that prohibits gun possession by people who have been involuntarily committed or are found to be a danger to themselves or others, but the bar for that is incredibly high, said Jonathan Metzl, the director of the Department of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University and an expert on gun violence and mental illness.
Police used female pronouns to refer to the attacker, whom they previously said identified as transgender. Kristin Mumford, a public affairs officer with the Metro Nashville Police Department, said the attacker was “assigned female at birth” but that the agency was “also aware of social media profiles in which the shooter used male pronouns.” A LinkedIn profile under the shooter’s name that has since been taken down listed he/him pronouns.
On Tuesday, police released body-camera footage worn by two of the officers who responded to the shooting.
The assailant was fatally shot by officers in an encounter that was captured on the footage. The body camera shows that within about three minutes and 20 seconds of parking at the school, officers located and killed the shooter.
The entire incident lasted about 14 minutes, with the first call coming in at 10:13 a.m. and officers engaging the shooter at 10:27 a.m., Drake said. He commended officers’ response, saying it was “really quick.”
“They heard gunfire and immediately ran to that and then took care of this awful situation,” Drake said.
In one body-camera video, worn by Officer Rex Engelbert, officers arrive at the Covenant School and are met outside by an employee.
“The kids are all locked down, but we have two that we don’t know where they are,” the employee tells Engelbert. She also tells him someone “fired into my window” and that “they are upstairs,” pointing toward the school’s second floor. Another employee hands Engelbert keys to the building as the first employee tells officers gunshots were heard in Fellowship Hall, at the end of the ground floor. “Upstairs, there are a bunch of kids,” the first employee says.
Footage then shows several officers clearing the hallway and various rooms on the ground floor before running to the second floor. Fire alarms ring through an otherwise empty hallway decorated with student artwork and St. Patrick’s Day projects.
Volleys of gunfire can be heard as officers dash up to the second floor, where they meet additional officers. The pops of gunfire grow louder as police rush toward the noise and around the corner to a common area near a second-floor window. There’s the sound of broken glass, which police said came from the attacker shooting at police cars arriving on campus, and Engelbert, armed with a rifle, opens fire on the assailant. Officer Michael Collazo fires four more shots as he and another officer approach the assailant and yell at them to stop moving and get their hands away from the gun. The video blurs out the shooter’s face and their body on the floor.
Police also released Collazo’s body-camera video, which shows several officers who rush to the second floor and find the door locked. They make their way through the ground floor, clearing the building as they go, until they reach the second floor and hear the crack of gunshots. “Shots fired, shots fired, move!” Collazo orders. It’s on the second floor where Collazo regroups with Engelbert, and the two officers fire the shots that kill the shooter.
Drake said he was not sure whether Engelbert, a four-year veteran, or Collazo, who had nine years on the force and worked as a paramedic on the SWAT team, had been in similar situations previously.
“I was really impressed, with all that was going on, the danger, that somebody took control, and said let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” he said. The responding officers are now “trying to decompress, trying to make sense of all this,” he added later.
Authorities said the assailant left behind a “manifesto” that contained various writings, including other possible locations along with a map of the school and how the shooter would enter. Mumford said that one of the additional locations was a mall but declined to specify which mall.
The shooter had “multiple rounds of ammunition,” was “prepared for confrontation with law enforcement,” and was believed to have acted alone, Drake said.
Surveillance footage released by Nashville police Monday night shows the assailant driving to the campus in what police said was a Honda Fit. At around 10:11 a.m., the attacker, whom police said was armed with assault-style weapons, shoots through a set of glass doors and ducks through them to enter the building. The footage then shows the shooter prowling the empty halls with a weapon drawn.
The police identified the three children killed in the attack as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all age 9; and the three adults as head of school Katherine Koonce, 60; Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher; and Mike Hill, 61, a custodian. Drake said the shooter “randomly targeted” the six victims.
The victims were found in different locations, Drake said. He added that Koonce seemed to have been alone in the hallway when she encountered the shooter. Body-camera footage shows a blurred-out body in a second-floor hallway as officers rush through the building.
Hill was hit by a shot when the attacker “sprayed rounds” of bullets through the glass doors to enter the building, Drake said.
Brittany Hill, who identified herself as Mike Hill’s daughter, posted a statement Monday on Facebook.
“Today my dad lost his life at The Covenant School/Church,” Hill wrote. “I have watched school shootings happen over the years and never thought I would lose a loved one over a person trying to solve a temporary problem with a permanent solution.”
Hallie Scruggs, daughter of Covenant Pastor Chad Scruggs, was remembered as “the spirited little sister with a bunch of big brothers” in a GoFundMe page set up by family friends to cover funeral and other expenses. “Her adventurous, spunky spirit was adored by all who knew her,” the page said.
Katherine Koonce was described as “a beacon of light, a faithful servant” by her niece Heather Benge in a Facebook post. “I have no doubt she was doing everything she could to protect her students — precious children,” Benge wrote.
The carnage at the small private school in Nashville added to the escalating toll of gun violence across America as familiar debates on gun regulation played out. According to the Gun Violence Archive — an independent online database that tracks gun violence using police, government, media and other public data — there have been 130 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, including Monday’s massacre in Nashville.
The organization defines a mass shooting as a minimum of four people shot — either injured or killed — not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured.
President Biden addressed the Nashville shooting at an event Tuesday in Durham, N.C., a day after he once again urged Congress to pass the assault weapons ban.
“We owe these families more than our prayers. We owe them action,” Biden said. “We have to do more to stop this gun violence from ripping communities apart and ripping apart the soul of this nation, and protect our children so they learn how to read and write instead duck and cover in a classroom. We need to act.”
Biden has ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff until Friday.
Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.