School Climate & Safety

3 Students, 3 Staff Dead in Shooting at Private Elementary School in Nashville

By Evie Blad — March 27, 2023 | Updated: March 27, 2023 3 min read
An ambulance leaves Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., on March 27, 2023. Officials say three adults and three children were killed in a shooting at the private Christian grade school in Nashville. The suspect is also dead after a confrontation with police.
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Clarification: An earlier version of this story included data and details on the rarity of female mass shooters because Nashville police initially identified the shooter as a woman. We have since removed that information due to a lack of clarity from law enforcement about the shooter’s gender identity.
Updated: This story was updated to add the name of the shooter, information about shooting plans, and the identities of the victims following a police news conference.

Three 9-year-old students and three adults were killed after a heavily armed 28-year-old shooter opened fire at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tenn., Monday before the attacker was shot and killed by police, officials said.

The attack at The Covenant School was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. K-12 school since May 2022, when an 18-year-old former student shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, according to a tracker maintained by Education Week.

Victims of the Nashville shooting were identified as students Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all 9; and adults Cynthia Peak, 61, Mike Hill, 61, and Katherine Koonce, 60, who is listed as the head of school on the school’s website.

The Nashville shooter, a former student named Audrey Hale, entered the school by shooting open a locked side door, the Nashville Police Department said. Armed with at least two assault-style rifles and a handgun, the shooter fired multiple shots on the first and second floors of the building before responding officers shot and killed Hale, Nashville Police Chief John Drake said in a media briefing. Police later found a manifesto and detailed plans for the shooting in Hale’s home, including maps of the school and details about security, he said.

Asked by reporters, police confirmed that they believe Hale was transgender.

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The incident was over 14 minutes after officers were alerted at 10:13 a.m. to the shooting. The school, which is operated by a Presbyterian church, has students in preschool through 6th grade.

“In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting,” Mayor John Cooper tweeted. “My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you.”

It was the 13th shooting on school property in 2023 that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to Education Week’s tracker, which includes incidents that took place during school hours or during school-sponsored activities. On March 22, a male student shot and injured two adults at a Denver high school as they searched him for weapons.

The shooting inside the Nashville school was followed by tragically familiar footage of lines of young children holding hands as police walked them out of the building to safety. It was also followed by recognizable calls for school safety measures and new gun laws.

What was less familiar: Mass school shooters rarely target private schools, which often enroll smaller numbers of students.

See also

Sign indicating school zone.
iStock/Getty

Police probe motive as politicians push for change

Drake, the Nashville police chief, said officers continued to probe Hale’s relationship with the school and potential motive Monday evening.

As local officials investigated, state and federal officials re-started their familiar calls for policy changes in response to the attack.

“It’s heartbreaking, a family’s worst nightmare ... We have to do more to stop gun violence,” President Joe Biden said before giving prepared remarks at an event for small business owners at the White House. “It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping at the very soul of the nation. And we have to do more to protect our schools so they aren’t turned into prisons.”

Biden called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, which he has pushed for repeatedly since the 2004 expiration of a previous federal ban on the sales of certain semi-automatic firearms.

This photo provided by the Metro Nashville Police Department shows officers at an active shooter event that took place at Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Nashville, Tenn. Monday, March 27, 2023. Authorities say the suspect in a shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville is dead.

“It’s about time that we make more progress,” Biden said Monday.

Republicans have said new security measures, not new gun restrictions, are necessary to address violence. And any gun legislation would face strong headwinds in a divided Congress.

Some advocates for stricter gun laws criticized Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, for signing 2021 legislation that expanded the ability of gunowners to carry weapons without a permit.

In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, Lee signed a June 2022 executive order that called for stricter enforcement of existing school safety laws and unannounced inspections to ensure public schools were limiting access to their buildings.

That order also called for state training of security guards at private schools, which typically operate under fewer state safety requirements than their public counterparts.

Lee tweeted Monday that he was closely monitoring the situation at the Nashville school.

“As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community,” he wrote.

Holly Peele, Library Director and Hyon-Young Kim, Senior Digital News Specialist contributed to this article.

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