NASHVILLE, Tenn — Leaders of the Diocese of Nashville have expressed sadness and shock over a school shooting at a Christian elementary school in the city while offering prayers for the victims, their families, and the entire school community.
“My heart breaks with the news of the school shooting at The Covenant School this morning,” Bishop Mark Spalding, who offered an evening Mass for the victims on March 27, said in a statement. “Let us pray for the victims, their families, and the Covenant Presbyterian community.”
Diocesan Chancellor Brian Cooper said the shooting was a painful reminder of what’s possible.
“The news of the shooting and loss of lives at The Covenant School this morning is deeply sad and shocking,” Cooper said in a statement. “It is a painful reminder that these horrific events can happen at any time. Our own city is not immune to this violence.”
The March 27 shooting took place mid-morning at the Presbyterian elementary school. Three students and three adults were killed in the attack. The shooter was killed at the scene by police.
Authorities have identified the victims as Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9; Hallie Scruggs, 9; William Kinney, 9; Katherine Koonce, 60; Cynthia Peak, 61; and Mike Hill, 61. Koonce is listed on The Covenant School website as “head of school.”
Authorities identified the suspect as Audrey Hale, a 28-year-old transgender woman from the Nashville area who was a former student at The Covenant School. According to authorities, Hale had conducted surveillance and had detailed maps of the school and a manifesto. The contents of the manifesto have not been released, nor has a possible motive.
Authorities said Hale had two assault-style rifles and a handgun. Hale shot through a door to gain access to the school, Nashville Police Chief John Drake said, adding that the shooter was “prepared for a confrontation with law enforcement” and “prepared to do more harm.”
The school serves about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade and has 40 to 50 staff members. It was founded as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in 2001 and advertises a motto of “Shepherding Hearts, Empowering Minds, Celebrating Childhood” on its website.
Nashville Police Department spokesperson Don Aaron said after the shooting that there were no police officers present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because it is a church-run school.
In response to the shooting, Diocese of Nashville superintendent of schools Rebecca Hammel said the diocese “will look for opportunities to strengthen our safety protocols.”
Cooper noted that safety is a top priority at diocesan schools and parishes. He said that they have taken steps each of the past five years to continually improve security at diocesan facilities.
There have been 13 school shootings in the U.S. this year that resulted in injuries or death, according to Education Week, a nonprofit news organization that covers education. Prior to the March 27 shooting in Nashville, the most recent was a March 22 shooting at East High School in Denver, where two administrators were shot and injured.