Nashville school shooter obtained guns legally, hid them from parents

Video released on Tuesday showed Nashville police officers firing multiple bullets into the suspected attacker in Monday's school shooting minutes after storming into the private Christian grade school with rifles and conducting a room-by-room search.

Investigators seeking motive for shooting that left three children, three adults dead

A man sits curbside in front of a sign for the Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Mario Dennis, one of the kitchen staff at the Covenant School, sits near a police officer after a deadly shooting killed six at the facility in Nashville, Tenn. (Kevin Wurm/Reuters)

An assailant who killed three 9-year-old students and three adult staff members during a shooting at a private Christian grade school in Nashville obtained the guns used in the attack legally, according to police.

Police Chief John Drake at a news briefing on Tuesday said that the assailant had purchased seven weapons legally from five different stores, including two assault weapons and a handgun used in Monday's assault.

Police have identified the attacker as Audrey Elizabeth Hale. Hale had been receiving care from a doctor for an "emotional disorder," according to Hale's parents.

Hale's parents did not feel that Hale should possess guns, Drake said. Hale sold one of the guns, and the parents were unaware that Hale had other weapons, Drake said.

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During the presser, a reporter asked if any existing laws in Tennessee would have allowed police to seize the guns from Hale for possessing weapons while under the care of a doctor.

Drake said there are no such laws. Had police known that the assailant was going to kill someone, they would have tried to seize those weapons, Drake added.

"But as it stands we had absolutely no idea, actually, who this person was," he said.

Video shows police killing shooter

Video released on Tuesday showed Nashville police officers storming the school before confronting and fatally shooting the attacker.

The six minutes of harrowing footage, edited together from the body-worn cameras of two responding officers and released by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, showed police clearing several first-floor classrooms before heading upstairs to the second floor as gunfire is heard.

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The officers run down a hallway — past what appears to be a victim lying on the ground — and into a lounge area, where the suspect is seen dropping to the floor after being shot.

Officer Rex Engelbert and Officer Michael Collazo, whose body cameras provided the footage, both fire several rounds at the suspect. The video shows the assailant still moving on the ground as an officer repeatedly yells, "Get your hands away from the gun!"

Nashville police began receiving calls about a shooter at 10:13 a.m., police spokesperson Don Aaron told reporters. The suspect was pronounced dead by 10:27 a.m.

"The police department response was swift," Aaron said.

The body camera footage showed officers rapidly searching for the shooter, in contrast to videos showing officers in Uvalde, Texas, waiting inside Robb Elementary School for more than an hour last May as a gunman inside a classroom continued an attack that claimed the lives of 19 children and two adults.

In 2018, a number of officers responding to a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., remained outside the building rather than immediately pursuing the suspect, according to a state commission's investigation. Seventeen students and staff members died in that attack.

Both incidents prompted fresh scrutiny of police protocols for active shooters, which call for officers to engage the suspect at once to prevent loss of life.

Monday's violence marked the 90th school shooting — defined as any incident in which a gun is discharged on school property — in the United States this year, 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.

Motive not yet offered by police

Hale has been identified as a 28-year-old former student at the Covenant School. Investigators are examining what they called a "manifesto" that Hale left behind, hoping to learn what motivated the latest in a long string of U.S. mass shootings. The shooter's gender is unclear.

"In Nashville, this is our worst day, but it could have been worse without this great response. We are very grateful for that," Nashville Mayor John Cooper said on Tuesday in an interview on CNN, noting that the attack was "clearly planned" by the assailant, based on the manifesto authorities found.

Authorities did not immediately offer a motive for the killings.

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Among various pieces of evidence under examination by police and FBI agents conducting an investigation were some writings by the assailant, including the manifesto and a detailed, hand-drawn map of the school showing various entry points, Drake said. 

Hale was armed with two assault-style weapons, one of them a rifle, as well as a 9-mm pistol. The attacker gained entry to the school by shooting through the window of a side door, authorities said.

Drake told NBC the manifesto indicated that Hale planned to carry out additional shootings at other locations. He said the Covenant School was singled out for attack but that the individual victims were targeted at random.

Investigators believe Hale harboured "some resentment for having to go to that school" as a child, he said without elaborating.

'The time is now'

The three slain school children, all age 9, were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. Also shot dead were Mike Hill, 61, a school custodian; Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher; and Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of school.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday noted that U.S. President Joe Biden has already taken multiple gun-related actions by executive order but that more needs to be done by lawmakers to enact comprehensive gun safety laws, including a renewed ban on assault weapons.

"We need Republicans in Congress to show some courage," she told MSNBC in an interview. "Enough, enough, enough."

A child in a school bus weeps while placing their hand on the window.
A child weeps while on the bus leaving the Covenant School following the mass shooting at the school in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday. (Nicole Hester/The Tennessean/The Associated Press)

Hours after the shooting, Biden urged lawmakers to pass tougher gun reform legislation.

"They need to act. The time is now," Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday.

Surveillance camera video posted online by police shows the suspect, wearing camouflage pants and a black vest over a white T-shirt with a red baseball cap on backward, blasting through the glass pane of an outer door after driving up to the building in a car. The footage then shows the assailant stalking through a hallway as alarm lights flash.

The Covenant School, founded in 2001, is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Green Hills neighbourhood of Tennessee's state capital, 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, local television station WTVF-TV reported.

With files from CBC News