NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A shooter wielding two “assault-style” rifles and a pistol killed three students and three adults at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday in what marks the latest in a series of mass shootings in a country growing increasingly unnerved by bloodshed in schools.
The suspect also died after being shot by police following the violence at The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school for about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade.
Police gave unclear information on the gender of the shooter. For hours, police identified the shooter as a 28-year-old woman and eventually identified the person as Audrey Hale. Then at a late afternoon press conference, the police chief said that Hale was transgender. After the news conference, police spokesperson Don Aaron declined to elaborate on how Hale currently identified.
Authorities were working to identify her and whether she had a connection to the school.
The killings come as communities around the nation 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.
The Nashville victims were pronounced dead upon arrival at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. One officer had a hand wound from cut glass.
Other students walked to safety Monday, holding hands as they left their school surrounded by police cars, to a nearby church to be reunited with their parents.
“In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting,” Mayor John Cooper wrote on Twitter. “My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you.”
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.”
On WTVF TV, reporter Hannah McDonald said that her mother-in-law works at the front desk at The Covenant School. The woman had stepped outside for a break Monday morning and was coming back when she heard gunshots, McDonald said during a live broadcast. The reporter said she has not been able to speak with her mother-in-law but said her husband had.
“In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper tweeted, thanking first responders and medical professionals. “My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you.”
The Covenant School was founded as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in 2001, according to the school’s website. The school is located in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood just south of downtown Nashville, situated close to the city’s top universities and home to the famed Bluebird Café – a beloved spot for musicians and song writers.
The grade school has 33 teachers, the website said. The school’s website features the motto “Shepherding Hearts, Empowering Minds, Celebrating Childhood.”
The shooter entered the school through a side entrance and went to the second story, police spokesperson Don Aaron said during a news briefing.
Democratic state Rep. Bob Freeman, whose district includes The Covenant School, called Monday’s shooting an “unimaginable tragedy.”
“I live around the corner from Covenant and pass by it often. I have friends who attend both church and school there,” Freeman said in a statement. “I have also visited the church in the past. It tears my heart apart to see this.”