A shooter who killed three 9-year-old students and three adults at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville Monday had maps of the school, left behind writings and scouted a second possible attack location, police said.
Police identified the shooter as Audrey Hale, a 28-year-old former student at the school, and called the attack targeted. Hale was shot and killed by police during the attack, which was the deadliest school shooting in nearly a year.
Hale, armed with three firearms, entered the Covenant School by shooting through a side door, Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a news conference.
Authorities say the attack unfolded over about 14 minutes. The first call about the shooting came in at 10:13 a.m. and the shooter was dead at 10:27 a.m., police spokesperson Don Aaron said. As a private school operated by a church, there was no school resource officer assigned by the city to guard the school, he said.
Hale fired multiple shots on the first and second floors of the school, police said. A five-member team of police officers heard the gunfire, went to the second floor and fatally shot the suspect, Aaron said.
After the attack, authorities found Hale had “maps drawn of the school in detail, surveillance, entry points,” Drake said.
“We some writings that we’re going over that pertain to this day, the actual incident,” Drake said. “We have a map drawn out of how this was all going to take place.”
Investigators also found the shooter may have looked at targeting another location, Drake said, but gave up on the idea after doing a “threat assessment” because the site had “too much security.” The location was in Nashville, he said.
Police have referred to Hale as the “female shooter” and at an evening press conference added that Hale was transgender. When asked for clarification, a spokesperson told CNN Hale used “male pronouns” on a social media profile.
Police believe Hale obtained at least two of the weapons legally, Drake said. Three weapons – an AR-style rifle, an AR-style pistol and a handgun – were found.
Police are investigating a motive and have a “theory” but are continuing to probe the shooter’s home and have talked with the suspect’s father, Drake said.
Hale graduated from Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville last year, the president of the school confirmed to CNN, and a LinkedIn profile says Hale worked as a freelance graphic designer and a part-time grocery shopper.
The victims include 9-year-old students and top school official
Nashville police identified the victims Monday afternoon as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9-year-old students at the school; Cynthia Peak, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Mike Hill, 61, who were all working at the school.
Koonce was the head of the school, according to Covenant’s website, which also lists she attended school in Nashville at Vanderbilt University and Trevecca Nazarene University, along with getting her master’s degree from Georgia State University.
Hill was a custodian at the school, according to Aaron. And Peak was working as a substitute teacher at the time of the attack, he said.
The incident is the 19th shooting at a school or university so far this year in which at least one person was wounded, according to a CNN tally. Last week, two faculty members were shot and wounded by a student at a high school in Denver, and the student was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
With six victims, Monday’s attack is the deadliest school shooting since the heinous attack in Uvalde, Texas, last May that left 21 people dead.
The Covenant School is a private Christian school founded in 2001 as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church and teaches preschool through 6th grade, according to its website. On a typical day it has 209 students and 40 to 50 staff members, Aaron said.
Loved ones gathered outside school as students escorted out
The mass shooting garnered a massive police and fire response, and concerned families gathered outside the school to wait for word of their loved ones.
Avery Myrick, whose mother is a teacher at the school, told CNN affiliate WSMV her mom texted that she was hiding in a closet and could hear shooting all over the school. Myrick later spoke to her mother on the phone and learned she was safe.
“Just getting that initial phone call that she was OK, it obviously brings a ton of relief, but you’re still hurting for the people out there who may not get that call,” she said.
Jozen Reodica, who works at Shearwater Health across the street from the school, took video of police escorting students out of the school on Monday. In the video, the children are holding hands and walking in a line down the street.
She told CNN she realized something was wrong when she saw several police cars arrive at the scene.
“They (police) started to close down the roads. It happened so fast. I saw a policeman run to the scene and then after a few minutes kids were already crossing,” Reodica said.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said the agency is assisting Metro Nashville Police Department on the investigation and will provide independent oversight on the officer-involved shooting aspect.
Police said they are working to analyze video from the school showing the shooting.
Biden urges Congress to act on gun laws
President Joe Biden said in a news conference the shooting was “sick” and “heartbreaking” and urged Congress to take further action on gun safety legislation.
“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,” he said. “And we have to do more to protect our schools, so they aren’t turned into prisons.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also called on lawmakers to pass laws addressing gun safety.
“How many more children have to be murdered before Republicans in Congress will step up and act to pass the assault weapons ban, to close loopholes in our background check system, or to require the safe storage of guns? We need to do something,” she said.
CNN’s Caroll Alvarado, Jamiel Lynch, Michelle Watson, Christina Zdanowicz and DJ Judd contributed to this report.