2023 Nashville school shooting

On March 27, 2023, a mass shooting occurred at The Covenant School, a Presbyterian Church in America parochial elementary school in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee when 28-year-old Aiden Hale (born Audrey Elizabeth Hale), a transgender man and former student of the school,[5][6][7] killed three nine‑year‑old children and three adults before being shot and killed by two Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) officers. It is the deadliest mass shooting in Tennessee history.

2023 Nashville school shooting
Map
LocationGreen Hills, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Coordinates36°05′35″N 86°49′32″W / 36.09306°N 86.82556°W / 36.09306; -86.82556
DateMarch 27, 2023 (March 27, 2023)
10:11 – 10:27 a.m. (CDT; UTC−05:00)
TargetStudents and staff at The Covenant School
Attack type
Mass shooting, mass murder, school shooting, pedicide
Weapons
Deaths7 (including the perpetrator)
Injured2 (1 by gunfire)[a]
PerpetratorAiden Hale[b][4]

Background

The Covenant School is a private Christian school in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville. It educates students from pre-kindergarten to the sixth grade. It was founded in 2001 as a ministry of Nashville's Covenant Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America; its enrollment is about 200 students.[8]

Shooting

External videos
CCTV footage released by Nashville Police showing Hale entering and walking throughout the school armed during the shooting.
 
  Tweet by Metro Nashville PD

Hale drove to the school, arriving at 9:54 a.m. CDT.[9][10] At 9:57, Hale sent an Instagram message to an old friend saying an earlier post was "basically a suicide note" and anticipating dying that day.[11] The friend who received the message called a crisis hotline, then contacted the Davidson County Sheriff's Office at 10:13.[12]

At 10:11, Hale, armed with a rifle, a carbine and a pistol, shot through a set of glass side doors and entered the building.[13][14][15] In a statement of facts released in an affidavit, a timeline of the movement of the perpetrator was revealed. A school custodian noticed Hale shooting his way into the school and tried to run away; Hale fired several times with his AR pistol and shot him to death. The smoke from the gunfire triggered the fire alarm. Several staff members and students initiated an evacuation without knowing there was an active shooter.

Hale then went up to the second floor via a stairway, where he encountered several students and faculty members. Hale fired his AR pistol several times, fatally shooting three children and a substitute teacher. Most of the students and staff escaped unharmed. Hale then walked up to the four victims and fired more shots into them. He then entered the second floor hallway and shot into the doors of two nearby third grade classrooms, injuring one student with a graze wound. Hale stopped shooting and continued searching for potential victims in the second floor hallway.

Hearing the fire alarms go off, the head of the school exited the school office on the second floor, unaware that an active shooter incident was happening. Hale rounded the corner into the same hallway and fatally shot her multiple times with the AR pistol, then walked up to the headmaster and shot her once more with his handgun. At this point, Hale continued walking around the second floor hallway looking for more potential victims, even going inside the church offices for that purpose.

Hale went downstairs to the first floor again and fired randomly in the lobby without shooting anyone. He then returned to the second floor and entered the emptied-out church sanctuary, where he fired seven times at a stained-glass window depicting Adam and Eve with his carbine before leaving. Hale then walked by a window at the church vestibule and noticed police cars arriving. He fired at the officers outside through the window for over two minutes.[16][17]

At 10:13, police received a call about an active shooter.[18][19] When police arrived at the scene, a teacher told an officer that the students were in lockdown and two were missing.[20] Officers entered the building at around 10:23.[21][22][5] While clearing the first floor of students and staff, they heard gunshots coming from the second floor.[23][24] Officers stepped over a victim on the second floor as they made their way to Hale.[25] At 10:25, a five-member team approached Hale,[26] and two officers fired four times each, killing Hale. By 10:27, 14 minutes after the initial 911 call was made, the threat was neutralized.[27][28][26] In total, Hale fired more than 150 rounds.[29] A reunification center was set up by the MNPD at the Woodmont Baptist Church; students were taken there by school bus in the afternoon.[30]

Victims

Six people—three students and three staff—were killed at random.[5] Five were pronounced dead at a hospital and one at the scene.[31] The deceased students were Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs, all aged 9.[32][c] The deceased faculty members were substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61; custodian Mike Hill, 61; and head of school Katherine Koonce, 60.[33]

In addition, a police officer was injured after cutting his hand on shattered glass.[3]

Perpetrator

Aiden Hale (previously referred to by the police by his birthname of Audrey Elizabeth Hale) was a 28-year-old former student of the Covenant School and a Nashville resident with no criminal record.[34] According to a former headmaster of the Covenant School, Hale attended the school when "around 10 years of age".[35][36] MNPD Police Chief John Drake said Hale was under care for an emotional disorder and had legally purchased seven firearms, including three recovered from the shooting scene, between October 2020 and June 2022.[1]

Police first referred to Hale as a woman and used his birth name. On the day of the shooting, MNPD Chief John Drake said that authorities "feel that [Hale] identifies as trans, but we're still in the initial investigation into all of that".[34] Media sources subsequently reported Hale was a trans man.[37][38] His former art teacher and a former classmate recalled him coming out as transgender on Facebook in 2022.[39][40] According to a friend, Hale "had a childlike obsession with staying a child".[41]

Hale was an illustrator and graphic designer who graduated from the Nossi College of Art & Design in 2022.[13] A neighbor said Hale lived with his parents.[42]

Investigation and perpetrator's writings

The MNPD took the lead of the investigation of the shooting, assisted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.[43] Two shotguns, one of which was sawed-off, and other evidence were found in a search of the Hales' house.[44] Evidence included a detailed map of the school with potential entry points and a manifesto.[24][45] Hale was believed to have undertaken reconnaissance, and had originally considered targeting another location but had decided not to carry out the attack due to the level of security on the premises.[45] On April 3, police said Hale planned the shooting for months and fired 152 rounds at the school, 126 of them 5.56 rifle rounds and 26 of them 9mm rounds.[46]

As of April 14, 2023, police have not publicly disclosed a motive for the shooting. Hale's surviving writings, including diaries and a planning document, initially called a "manifesto", were described by police as "rambling" and empty of any specific political or social issues.[36] Three pages of Hale's diary, described by CNN as containing "hate-filled language" directed at the school and its children, were leaked by conservative commentator Steven Crowder on November 6, 2023.[47] In the pages released by Crowder, Hale allegedly wrote: "Wanna kill all you little crackers […] Bunch of little faggots w/ your white privlages [sic] fuck you faggots."[48] In June 2024, The Tennessee Star published new pages purported to be from Hale's "manifesto". The Star quoted from the document: "So now in America, it makes one a criminal to have a gun or, be transgender, or non-binary". Another part of the diary read: "So now [because] of you, I wish death on myself cause of the pure hatred of my female gender."[49]

Reactions

The Covenant School issued a statement asking for privacy during the law-enforcement investigation.[50] Several vigils were held for the casualties. A memorial at the school gathered items such as flowers, balloons, and stuffed animals.[50] A memorial concert was held at the Fisher Center at Belmont University, with artists including Carrie Underwood, Tyler Hubbard, Colony House, and Thomas Rhett performing. All proceeds benefitted the school's staff, students and families.[51] The city of Nashville set up a fund to support those affected. The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee also established one for The Covenant School, and GoFundMe created a list with verified similar fundraisers.[52][53]

Several notable Nashville musicians including Mickey Guyton, Margo Price, and Sheryl Crow offered their condolences and anger about continual school shootings.[54] Actress Melissa Joan Hart, who was nearby when the shooting occurred and helped escort some of the fleeing children to safety,[55] recounted the experience on Instagram a day later.[56]

Representative Andy Ogles, whose district includes Nashville, tweeted, "We are sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those lost. As a father of three, I am utterly heartbroken by this senseless act of violence." Ogles's response was subsequently criticized on social media after a photo of him and his family posing with AR-15s in front of a Christmas tree resurfaced.[57]

Arizona gubernatorial press secretary Josselyn Berry tweeted, hours after the shooting, a meme of an actress from Gloria pointing two pistols alongside the text: "Us when we see transphobes." The post was widely condemned, and she resigned two days later. Her former administration said the tweet did not reflect its values.[58][59]

As a part of a long running Internet meme, posts misidentifying the shooter using an altered photo of comedian Sam Hyde circulated on social media.[60][61] A fake manifesto posted anonymously on 4chan was reposted on Twitter.[62]

Policy debate and protests

In response to the shooting, U.S. President Joe Biden said, "We have to do more to stop gun violence. It's ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation, ripping at the very soul of the nation... we have to do more to protect our schools, so they aren't turned into prisons."[8] He ordered flags on all federal buildings to be flown at half-staff.[24][63] Nashville Mayor John Cooper called for the state to enact risk-protection laws and take action on gun safety.[64] And Tennessee state representative Bob Freeman, a Democrat from Nashville, called for gun reforms in the wake of the shooting.[65]

Protestors called for increased gun control in reaction to the shootings. On March 30, thousands of protestors gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol to call for stricter gun control laws.[66][67] Some children held signs saying "I'm nine" in reference to the age of the children shot.[68] Within the chamber of the capitol, three state representatives, Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson led the public gallery in chants of "no more silence", "we have to do better", and "gun reform now", demanding that lawmakers strengthen gun laws. This protest delayed a hearing on a bill which would expand gun access.[69][65] On April 5, thousands of students across the United States demonstrated in a walkout to call on lawmakers to end gun violence.[70] The student group March for Our Lives organized walkouts across Tennessee as well as a march to the State Capitol.[71]

After their actions during the March 30 protest, Johnson and Jones were stripped of their committee assignments and, alongside Pearson, were notified that they could be expelled from the House. House Speaker Cameron Sexton said their actions were unacceptable, breaking rules of decorum and procedure.[72][73] Jones and Pearson were expelled from the House on April 6, with the vote to expel Johnson failing by a single vote.[74] Within a week, they were reinstated in interim capacities—the Nashville Metropolitan Council unanimously voted to reinstate Jones, and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to reinstate Pearson.[75] The expulsion and interim reinstatement garnered national attention.[76][77]

The state legislature passed bills designed to improve safety measures at schools. In March, it passed a law allowing private schools to hire school resource officers from police departments to help prevent shootings, effective immediately.[78] In April, the legislature passed a bill allocating $230 million towards school safety, including to place school-resource officers in every school; the bill was signed into law in May.[79]

On August 8, 2023, Governor Bill Lee officially called for a special session of the General Assembly to be held on August 21 to focus on public safety in response to the shooting.[80][81]

Controversy over Hale's writings

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, police officers collected what was initially described as a "manifesto" authored by Hale.[13] David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, later called the descriptor a "mischaracterization", describing the writings as a document detailing Hale's plan and "journal-type rantings".[36] The MNPD denied requests for the files by The Tennessean[82] and state senator Todd Gardenhire,[83] who argued, along with some open-government advocates, that Tennessee's public records laws required the release of the writings.[29] Metro Nashville Council Member Courtney Johnston said that the FBI had told her that the documents would not be released because they detailed a "blueprint of total destruction" and could inspire other shooters.[84] Several Tennessee politicians[83] and public figures—including Elon Musk and Donald Trump Jr.—publicly called for the release of the documents.[29][82] Senator Bill Hagerty said, "I think people do deserve to know what took place [and] what was in the mind of this sick person that committed these heinous murders."[82] House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison attributed the lack of a legislative response to the shootings to the delayed release, saying, "We cannot possibly address this horrific situation until we know what was in [the] manifesto."[29][83]

On April 28, 2023, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that, per his communications with Drake, the writings would be released "very soon".[85] When the National Police Association[86] and the Tennessee Firearms Association,[87] separately, filed suit to obtain the writings, the MNPD announced that, in the face of "pending litigation", it would delay the release on the advice of counsel.[88] The Covenant School sought to intervene in both cases[89] to protect "sensitive information owned by The Covenant School" from being released,[90][91] and a collection of Covenant parents, representing 75% of the families at the school, sought to provide argument that the writings—even in a redacted form—should not be released at all.[92][93] A judge granted the requests to intervene by the school and the parents.[94] In March 2024, a federal judge in Tennessee has ordered the FBI to hand over the manifesto left behind by the shooter.[95]

Leaks

On November 6, 2023, images of three pages of Hale's diary were released by conservative commentator Steven Crowder.[96] Nashville Police chief John Drake confirmed the authenticity of the images,[47] and Nashville mayor Freddie O'Connell directed Nashville's Department of Law to investigate "how these images could have been released".[96][47] The leaks showed that Hale was hoping for "a high death count" and had a stated desire to "kill little crackers" and "faggots" with "white privilege".[97]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ An injured victim was a police officer who cut his hand on shattered glass.[3]
  2. ^ Has been identified by law enforcement and the press by his birth name, Audrey Elizabeth Hale.
  3. ^ Police Chief John Drake said in a press briefing on March 27, 2023, that one of the children was aged 8, while Public Affairs Director Don Aaron said that all the children were aged 9 in the same press briefing. Most sources say that all three were 9.

References

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