A heavily armed 28-year-old Nashville-area resident fatally shot three children and three adult staffers at a private Christian school she once attended in Tennessee's capital city Monday before police killed her, authorities said.
There was no immediate official word on a possible motive for the gun violence, which unfolded on a warm, sunny spring morning not long after classes had begun at The Covenant School, whose students consist mostly of elementary school-age children.
But the suspect had drawn detailed maps of the school, including entry points for the building, and left behind a "manifesto" and other writings that investigators were examining, Police Chief John Drake said during an early evening news briefing.
Drake identified the suspect as Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, and referred to the assailant using female pronouns. But in response to reporters' questions the chief said, "she does identify as transgender."
In an interview with NBC News, Drake elaborated on a posible motive: "There’s some belief that there was some resentment for having to go to that school. Don’t have all the details to that just yet and that’s why this incident occurred."
Police identified the victims as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all 9 years old, and adults Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.
The website of The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school founded in 2001, lists a Katherine Koonce as the head of the school. Her LinkedIn profile says she has led the school since July 2016. Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a custodian, according to investigators.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department began receiving calls at 10:13 a.m. of a shooter at the school, and arriving officers reported hearing gunfire coming from the building's second floor, police spokesperson Don Aaron told reporters.
Two officers from a five-member team shot the assailant in a lobby area, and she was pronounced dead by 10:27 a.m.
"The police department response was swift," Aaron said.
Drake said the 28-year-old suspect had previously been a student at the school.
The attacker gained entry to the school by firing through one of the doors, the chief said.
Three students were pronounced dead after arriving at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt with gunshot wounds, hospital spokesperson John Howser said in a statement. Three adult staff members were killed by the shooter, police said.
Besides the deceased, no one else was shot, Aaron said.
Reacting in Washington to the latest school shooting, U.S. President Joe Biden urged the U.S. Congress again to pass tougher gun reform legislation.
"It's sick," Biden said, addressing the issue during an event at the White House and urging Congress again to pass a ban on assault-style weapons. "We have to do more to stop gun violence. It's ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation."
U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, said on Twitter that her office stands "ready to assist" those affected by the shooting.
But Rosanne Cash, daughter of Nashville country music icon Johnny Cash and a singer-songwriter in her own right, responded by criticizing Blackburn's ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby.
"You vote against every common sense gun control bill that comes across your desk, you've taken over $1 million from the NRA and you rank 14th in all Congress for NRA contributions. Spare us the hand-wringing," Cash tweeted.
At the state level, Tennessee in 2021 did away with its permit requirement for carrying a concealed handgun and now allows anyone aged 21 and older to carry a firearm, either openly or concealed, without a permit, as long as they are legally allowed to purchase the weapon.
Possessing a handgun is outlawed in Tennessee for anybody who has been convicted of a felony offense involving violence or drugs.
Students' parents were told to gather at the nearby Woodmont Baptist Church to be reunited with their children. Parents trickled out of the building with their youngsters in tow. One woman was visibly distraught as she was escorted alone out of the church to an awaiting squad car by police officers who said they were headed to Vanderbilt.
The Covenant School, founded in 2001, is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville with about 200 students, according to the school's website. The school serves preschool through sixth graders and held an active shooter training program in 2022, WTVF-TV reported.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper expressed sympathy for the victims and wrote on social media that his city "joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting."
There have been 89 school shootings – defined as anytime a gun is discharged on school property – in the U.S. so far in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, a website founded by researcher David Riedman. Last year saw 303 such incidents, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.
This article contains reporting from Reuters and The Associated Press.
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