Nashville police ID students, all 9 years old, and adults killed in school mass shooting
Suspect also dead in shooting at the Covenant School, police department said
An assailant wielding two "assault-style" rifles and a pistol killed three nine-year-old students and three adults at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday, the latest in a series of mass shootings in a country growing increasingly unnerved by bloodshed in schools.
The suspect, who was killed by police, is believed to be a former student at the Covenant School in Nashville, where the shooting took place.
Police said the suspect shot through the doors of the school after elaborately planning the massacre by drawing out a detailed map and conducting surveillance of the building.
The shooter was armed with two "assault-style" weapons — a rifle and a pistol — as well as a handgun, authorities said. At least two of them were believed to have been obtained legally in the Nashville area.
The victims were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all nine 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 Koonce as the head of the school.
The attack at the Covenant School — which has about 200 students from preschool through Grade 6, as well as roughly 50 staff members — comes as communities across the United States are reeling from a spate of school violence, including the 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 that wounded two administrators.
"I was literally moved to tears to see this and the kids as they were being ushered out of the building," Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at an afternoon news conference.
Drake did not give a specific motive when asked by reporters but provided chilling examples of the shooter's prior planning for the targeted attack.
"We have a manifesto, we have some writings that we're going over that pertain to this date, the actual incident," he said. "We have a map drawn out of how this was all going to take place."
The Covenant School was founded as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church. The affluent Green Hills neighbourhood just south of downtown Nashville, where the school is located, is home to the famed Bluebird Café — a beloved spot for musicians and songwriters.
Monday's tragedy unfolded over roughly 14 minutes. Police received the initial call about an active shooter at 10:13 a.m. local time.
Officers began clearing the first storey of the school when they heard gunshots coming from the second level, police spokesperson Don Aaron said during a news briefing.
Two officers from a five-member team opened fire in response, fatally shooting the suspect at 10:27 a.m., Aaron said. One officer had a hand wound from cut glass.
Aaron said there were no police officers present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because it is a church-run school.
Other students walked to safety on Monday, holding hands as they left the school surrounded by police cars, to a nearby church to be reunited with their parents.
Rachel Dibble, who was at the church as families found their children, described the scene as everyone being in "complete shock."
"People were involuntarily trembling," said Dibble, whose children attend a different private school in Nashville. "The children started their morning in their cute little uniforms, they probably had some Fruit Loops and now their whole lives changed today."
Dr. Shamender Talwar, a social psychologist from Britain who is working on an unrelated mental health project in Nashville, raced to the church as soon as he heard news of the shooting to offer help. He said he was one of several chaplains, psychologists, life coaches and clergy inside supporting the families.
"All you can show is that the human spirit that basically that we are all here together and hold their hand more than anything else," he said.
Jozen Reodica heard the police sirens and fire trucks blaring from outside her office building nearby. As her building was placed under lockdown, she took out her phone and recorded the chaos.
"I thought I would just see this on TV," she said. "And right now, it's real."
Top legislative leaders announced on Monday that the Republican-dominant Statehouse would meet briefly later in the evening and delay taking up any legislation.
"In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting," Mayor John Cooper wrote on Twitter.
Gun violence 'ripping at the very soul of this nation'
U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking at an unrelated event at the White House on Monday, called the shooting a "family's worst nightmare" and implored Congress again to pass a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.
"It's ripping at the soul of this nation, ripping at the very soul of this nation," Biden said.
Mélanie Joly, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, expressed her condolences on Twitter on Monday.
News of the shooting in Nashville targeting school children and educators is incredibly heartbreaking. My thoughts are with our American neighbours during this time and my heart goes out to the victims’ loved ones.—@melaniejoly