As more details emerge about how a deadly mass shooting unfolded inside a private Christian school in Nashville, a former police officer who provided active shooter training at the school said the quick-thinking actions of teachers who locked down classrooms helped save lives.
The shooter who got into The Covenant School on Monday fired multiple rounds into several classrooms but didn’t hit any students inside the classrooms, “because the teachers knew exactly what to do, how to fortify their doors and where to place their children in those rooms,” security consultant Brink Fidler told CNN.
“Their ability to execute literally flawlessly under that amount of stress while somebody trying to murder them and their children, that is what made the difference here,” Fidler said.
“These teachers are the reason those kids went home to their families,” he added.
Six people were killed in the Monday morning school shooting. They were three 9-year-old students: Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs. The adults killed were Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher; Katherine Koonce, the 60-year-old head of the school; and Mike Hill, a 61-year-old custodian, police said.
All of the victims who were struck by gunfire had been in an open area or hallway, said Fidler, who did a walk-through of the school with officials Wednesday.
“The only victims this shooter was able to get to were victims that were stuck in some sort of open area or hallway,” Fidler said. “Several were able to evarocuate safely. The ones that couldn’t do that safely did exactly what they were taught and trained to do.”
While the shooter had targeted the school, it’s believed the victims were fired upon at random, police have said.
Also credited with saving lives are the officers who rushed into the school and fatally shot the attacker, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, ending the 14 minutes of terror that unfolded at the school.
“We had heroic officers that went in harm’s way to stop this and we could have been talking about more tragedy than what we are,” Drake told CNN Wednesday.
The law enforcement response in Nashville stands in contrast with the response in Uvalde, Texas, where there was a delay of more than an hour before authorities confronted and killed the gunman. The attack in Uvalde left 21 people dead.
Monday’s school shooting in Nashville was the deadliest US school shooting since last May’s massacre in Uvalde. It also marked the 19th shooting at a school or university in just the past three months that left at least one person wounded, a CNN count shows.
A Nashville city councilman also said a witness told him Koonce, the head of The Covenant School, spent her last moments trying to protect the children in her care.
“The witness said Katherine Koonce was on a Zoom call, heard the shots and abruptly ended the Zoom call and left the office. The assumption from there is that she headed towards the shooter,” Councilman Russ Pulley said. He did not identify the witness.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said he can’t confirm how Koonce died but said, “I do know she was in the hallway by herself. There was a confrontation, I’m sure. You can tell the way she is lying in the hallway.”
Fidler said that Koonce had been adamant about training school staff on how to respond during an active shooter situation.
“She understood the severity of the topic and the severity of the teachers needing to have the knowledge of what to do in that situation,” he said.
Koonce and the other victims were honored at a citywide vigil in Nashville Wednesday, where residents came together to pray and grieve.
“It’s such a tragedy and felt so deeply by everyone here,” Nashville resident Eliza Hughes said. “Nashville is a close tight-knit community. We definitely feel the tragedy. It’s an awful situation.”
After the shooting, police found that Hale had detailed maps of The Covenant School – which the shooter had attended as a child – and “quite a bit” of writings related to the shooting, according to the police chief.
The FBI, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and police have been combing through the maps and writings Hale left, including looking at a notebook, Drake said.
Authorities have called the attack “calculated,” with Drake saying Wednesday that the maps “did have a display of entry into the school, a route that would be taken for whatever was going to be carried out.”
The shooter is also believed to have had weapons training and had arrived at the school heavily armed and prepared for a confrontation with law enforcement, police have said.
But as details of the pre-planning are uncovered, it’s still unclear what motivated the attack. Drake said police have met with the school and found no indication that Hale had any problems while attending The Covenant.
Hale had been under care for an emotional disorder and legally bought seven guns in the past three years, but they were kept hidden from Hale’s parents, Drake said. Three of the weapons, including an AR-15 rifle, were used in the attack Monday.
Tennessee does not have a “red flag” law that would allow a judge to temporarily seize guns from someone who is believed to be a threat to themselves or others.
The police chief said law enforcement was not contacted about the shooter previously, and Hale was never committed to an institution.
Hale’s childhood friend, Averianna Patton, told CNN on Tuesday the killer sent her disturbing messages minutes before the attack, saying “I’m planning to die today” and it would be on the news.
Patton called the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville but was on hold for “maybe like 7 minutes,” she said. By then, the shooting had already started.
Asked about the messages, Drake told CNN, “If their timeline was accurate, the actual call came in after the officer had already arrived on the scene. So, it plays no bearing on that.”
“The moment we got the call, we responded immediately to the scene. Officers pulled up, were taking gunfire, pulled the gun out, went inside, did not wait,” Drake said.
The shooter entered the school by firing at glass doors and climbing through to get inside, surveillance video shows. The first call about the shooting came in at 10:13 a.m., and police arrived on scene at 10:24 a.m., according to the police chief.
Body-camera footage from the first responding officers shows them rushing in and clearing classrooms before racing to the second floor of the school, where an officer armed with an assault-style rifle shot the assailant multiple times. The shooter was dead at 10:27 a.m., police said.
Police have referred to Hale as a “female shooter,” and later said Hale was transgender. Hale used male pronouns on a social media profile, a spokesperson told CNN when asked to clarify.
Nashville residents came together for a citywide vigil Wednesday to mourn the victims, pray and sharex in the heartache.
First lady Jill Biden was in attendance, as was singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, who performed her song “I Shall Believe” to the grieving crowd.
“Nashville has had its worst today,” Mayor John Cooper told the crowd. “Our heart is broken. Our city united as we mourn together.”
The police chief also addressed the community, saying that a school shooting like the one officers faced at The Covenant School on Monday is a moment officers have trained for but hoped would never come.
“Our police officers have cried and are crying with Nashville and the world,” Drake said.
As the community grieves, families are mourning loved ones lost in the shooting.
William, one of the children killed, had an “unflappable spirit,” friends of the Kinney family shared on GoFundMe.
Hallie’s aunt Kara Arnold said the 9-year-old had “a love for life that kept her smiling and running and jumping and playing and always on the go.”
Evelyn’s family called her “a shining light in this world.”
The family of Hill, a father of seven children and grandfather to 14, remembered his love for cooking and spending time with his family.
“Violence has visited our city and brought heartache and pain. In the midst of sorrow, we are yet looking for hope,” said Tennessee Representative Rev. Harold M. Love, Jr. as he ended the vigil with a prayer.