- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2023

A heavily armed woman who identified as a male killed three 9-year-old students and three staff members Monday at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, before police shot her dead in a rare mass shooting carried out by a female.

Police said shooter Audrey E. Hale, 28, was a transgender person who had a “manifesto” at home and had drawn a detailed map of the school. Hale, a biological female who identified as “he/him,” was a former student at the school.

The violence at The Covenant School took place when Hale shot through a locked side door of the building. Hale was carrying two AR assault-style rifles and a pistol. Police said two of the firearms were obtained legally in the Nashville area.

Most of the shooting took place in a first-floor lobby area, police said. Police identified the victims as 9-year-olds Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, and substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, custodian Mike Hill, 61, and Head of School Katherine Koonce, 60.

Metropolitan Nashville Police said responding officers entered the school and moved toward the sound of gunshots before encountering “a female who was firing” on the school’s second floor. Two officers opened fire and killed her. 

Police Chief John Drake said all doors to the school, a pre-K through sixth-grade campus, had been locked.

Chief Drake confirmed reports that Hale, a biological female, was transgender.

“She does identify as transgender, yes,” he said. Social media accounts showed Hale’s preferred pronouns as “he/him.”

The chief said police recovered a manifesto that he described as “writings … that pertain to this day, to the actual incident. We have a map drawn out of how this was all going to take place.”

Chief Drake told reporters that he was “moved to tears” by what he saw in the aftermath at the school.

President Biden cited the Nashville shooting in another call for Congress to approve a ban on assault weapons.

“It’s heartbreaking, a family’s worst nightmare,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping at the very soul of this nation. We have to do more to protect our schools. I call on Congress again to pass my assault weapons ban.”

The first call to police was made at 10:13 a.m. local time. The school has about 200 students and is part of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, located in the city’s affluent Green Hills neighborhood. The tragedy unfolded over roughly 14 minutes.

Officers began clearing the first story of the school when they heard gunshots coming from the second level, police spokesperson Don Aaron said during a news briefing.

Two officers from a five-member team opened fire in response and fatally shot the assailant at 10:27 a.m., Mr. Aaron said. He said no police officers were present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because the school is run by a church.

Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler, said a female mass shooter is extremely rare, especially one as young as the one in Nashville.

“This blows the curve as far as who normally does the shooting, their age, their background, their gender,” he said. “Every time we think we’ve seen everything when it comes to mass shootings, we see something we never saw before. Women are accustomed to resolving things without violence. They are more willing to talk about things where the man gets physical.”

Mr. Van Zandt said it is also surprising that a woman would target children, which is even rarer for the small number of female mass shooters.

“She’s making some sort of statement,” Mr. Van Zandt said of the shooter. “She wants to hurt someone so bad or she’s so wounded she wants to strike back at innocent victims.”

After police revealed that Hale was transgender, Mr. Van Zandt said the development “might impact motive.”

“That might have been a factor, but we don’t know,” he said.

Studies vary on the number of female mass shooters, but all conclude that they are highly unusual.

A report by the Violence Project, which studied 172 mass shootings from 1966 through 2021, found that only four were carried out by women. In two of those cases, the woman acted in partnership with a man.

The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center issued a report in 2021 analyzing 67 averted attacks on schools from 2006 through 2018. The study found that only 5% of the plotters were female and 95% were male.

An FBI list of active shooter incidents from 2000 through 2018 found that nine of the 250 incidents involved female shooters.

After the shooting Monday, other students walked to safety. They held hands as they left their school, surrounded by police cars, to go 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 said in a Twitter post. “My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you.”

Later, Mr. Cooper praised the swift police response.

“Fourteen minutes, I believe under fire, running to gunfire,” he said.

Jozen Reodica heard the police sirens and firetrucks 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 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, Ms. McDonald said during a live broadcast.

The reporter said she had not been able to speak with her mother-in-law but her husband had.

The tragedy in Nashville was the latest in a spate of school shootings, 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.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden wants Congress to act “because enough is enough.”

“How many more children have to be murdered before Republicans in Congress will step up and act and pass the assault weapons ban, close loopholes in our background check system or require the safe storage of guns?” she said.

First lady Jill Biden addressed the shooting while speaking at an event in the District.

“We just learned about another shooting in Tennessee — a school shooting — and I am truly without words,” Mrs. Biden said. “Our children deserve better. And we stand, all of us, we stand with Nashville in prayer.”

Republican officials praised the quick actions of first responders.

“Devastated and heartbroken about the tragic news at Covenant School,” Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican, said in a statement over Twitter. “I’m grateful to law enforcement and first responders for their heroic actions. I am monitoring the situation closely, and my office is in contact with local officials & available to anyone needing assistance.”

Fellow Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn said she was “heartbroken to hear about the shooting at Covenant School in Nashville” and was ready to assist first responders in any way. Rep. Andrew Ogles, Tennessee Republican, said, “As a father of three, I am utterly heartbroken by this senseless act of violence.”

State Rep. Bob Freeman, a Democrat from Nashville, expressed his condolences in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.

“I live around the corner from Covenant and pass by it often. I have friends who attend both church and school there. I have also visited the church in the past. It tears my heart apart to see this,” Mr. Freeman said in the statement.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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