Woman shoots dead 6 at Christian school she once attended in Tennessee
NASHVILLE - A 28-year-old woman armed with several guns opened fire on Monday at a private Christian school she once attended in Tennessee’s capital city, killing three children and three adult staffers before police killed her, authorities said.
There was no immediate official word on a possible motive for the gun violence, which unfolded on a warm spring morning not long after classes began at The Convenant School, whose students consist mostly of elementary school-age children.
The woman was carrying at least two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, police said.
But the suspect had drawn detailed maps of the school, including entry points for the building, and left behind a “manifesto” and other writings that investigators were examining, Police Chief John Drake told an early evening news briefing.
Mr Drake identified the suspect as a woman by the name of Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, a resident of the Nashville area and referred to the assailant by female pronouns. But in response to reporters’ questions, the chief said: “She does identify as transgender.”
Whether the suspect identified as a man or woman was not made clear.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department began receiving calls at 10.13am about a shooter at the school, and arriving officers reported hearing gunfire coming from the building’s second floor, police spokesman Don Aaron told reporters.
Two officers from a five-member team shot the assailant in a lobby area, and she was pronounced dead by 10.27am.
“The police department response was swift,” Aaron said. Police Chief Drake later described the suspect as a 28-year-old woman from the Nashville area who “at one point was a student at this school”.
The attacker gained entry to the school by firing through one of the doors, the chief said.
Three students were pronounced dead after arriving at Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with gunshot wounds, John Howser, a hospital spokesperson, said in a statement. Three adult staff members were killed by the shooter, police said.
The victims were later identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age 9, along with Cynthia Peak, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Mike Hill, 61.
Besides the deceased, no one else was shot, Mr Aaron said.
Deadly mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States in recent years, but a female attacker is highly unusual. Only four of 191 mass shootings cataloged since 1966 by The Violence Project, a nonprofit research center, were carried out by a female attacker.
Reacting to the shooting in Washington, US President Joe Biden urged Congress again to pass more gun reform legislation.
“It’s sick,” he said, addressing the issue during an event at the White House. “We have to do more to protect our schools so they aren’t turned into prisons ... I call on Congress again to pass my assault weapons ban.
“We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation.”
US Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, said on Twitter that her office stands “ready to assist” those affected by the shooting.
But Rosanne Cash, daughter of Nashville country music icon Johnny Cash and a singer-songwriter in her own right, responded by criticising Blackburn’s ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby.
“You vote against every common sense gun control bill that comes across your desk, you’ve taken over $1 million from the NRA and you rank 14th in all Congress for NRA contributions. Spare us the hand-wringing,” she tweeted.
At the state level, Tennessee in 2021 did away with its permit requirement for carrying a concealed handgun and now allows anyone aged 21 and older to carry a firearm, either openly or concealed, without a permit, as long as they are legally allowed to purchase the weapon.
Possessing a handgun is outlawed in Tennessee for anybody who has been convicted of a felony offence involving violence or drugs.
Students’ parents were told to gather at the nearby Woodmont Baptist Church to be reunited with their children. Parents trickled out of the building with their youngsters in tow. One woman was visibly distraught as she was escorted alone out of the church to an awaiting squad car by police officers.
The Covenant School, founded in 2001, is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville with about 200 students, according to the school’s website. The school serves preschool through sixth graders and held an active shooter training program in 2022, WTVF-TV reported.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper expressed sympathy for the victims and wrote on social media that his city “joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting.”
There have been 89 school shootings – defined as anytime a gun is discharged on school property – in the US so far in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, a website founded by researcher David Riedman. Last year saw 303 such incidents, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970. - REUTERS
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