Police in Nashville are digging into the background and motivations of a former student who entered a Christian elementary school armed with AR-style weapons and detailed maps and opened fire, killing three children and three adults in the deadliest US school shooting in nearly a year.
The shooter, identified as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, was shot dead by police during the Monday morning attack, leaving behind "drawn out" maps of the Covenant School detailing "how this was all going to take place," Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said.
In a social media message apparently sent by the shooter minutes before the attack, Hale stated a plan to die by suicide and wrote "something bad is about to happen," the messages to a childhood teammate shared with CNN affiliate WTVF show. The former teammate "tried to comfort and encourage" Hale, then called authorities, the recipient told WTVF.
As police work to piece together what led to the violence, officials have determined where the shooter lived in the Nashville area and have interviewed Hale's father, they said. Investigators are expected to spend Tuesday processing the scene and gathering more details about what happened during the roughly 14 minutes of terror at the private elementary school run as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church.
The attack was the 19th shooting at an American school or university in 2023 in which at least one person was wounded, according to a CNN tally, and the deadliest since the May attack in Uvalde, Texas, left 21 dead. Some 562 such shootings have happened since 2008.
As the Nashville shooting developed, worried parents rushed to the school, and frightened students and teachers were forced to take cover as gunshots exploded and police confronted the attacker, adding the grieving campus community to a long list of other US schools stunned by gun violence.
"I was literally moved to tears to see this and the kids as they were being ushered out of the building," the police chief said during a Monday news conference.
Live updates: Nashville Covenant School shooting
All three students killed were 9 years old. Police identified them as Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs, the daughter of lead church pastor Chad Scruggs. Also killed were Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61, police said.
Shaundelle Brooks, whose son Akilah DaSilva was killed in a 2018 mass shooting at a Nashville-area Waffle House, was taken back to that painful moment as her other son was on lockdown Monday at a nearby school.
"My heart dropped," Brooks recalled. "Here we are again, another mass shooting."
Hale, who attended the Covenant School years ago, left writings pertaining to the shooting and had scouted a second possible attack location in Nashville, "but because of a threat assessment by the suspect -- there's too much security -- decided not to," Drake, the police chief, said.
The writings revealed the attack at the Christian school "was calculated and planned," police said. The shooter was "someone that had multiple rounds of ammunition, prepared for confrontation with law enforcement, prepared to do more harm than was actually done," Drake said.
Three weapons -- an AR-style rifle, an AR-style pistol and a handgun -- were found, and police believe Hale got at least two of the weapons legally, he said. A search warrant executed at Hale's home led to the seizure of a sawed-off shotgun, a second shotgun and other evidence, according to police.
So far, little is known about the shooter. Hale graduated from Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville last year, the president of the school confirmed to CNN, and worked as a freelance graphic designer and a part-time grocery shopper, a LinkedIn profile says.
Police have referred to Hale as a "female shooter," and at an evening news conference added Hale was transgender. Hale used "male pronouns" on a social media profile, a spokesperson told CNN when asked to clarify.
How the shooting unfolded
On Monday morning, Hale's former teammate, Averianna Patton, saw an Instagram message on her phone from Hale that stated Hale was planning to die by suicide and Patton would see it on the news, she said.
The note had been sent at 9:57 a.m., according to a screenshot of it published by WTVF.
"One day this will make more sense," Hale wrote. "I've left behind more than enough evidence behind. But something bad is about to happen."
Patton "tried to comfort and encourage her and subsequently reached out to the Suicide Prevention Help Line after being instructed to by my father at 10:08 a.m.," she told WTVF. Patton also called the Nashville Davidson County Sheriff's Office at 10:13 a.m. to make them aware of the situation and was told to call Nashville's non-emergency number, she said.
At that very minute, police in Nashville got a call of an active shooter inside Covenant school and rushed there.
Armed with three firearms, the shooter had gotten into the school by firing through glass doors and climbing through to get inside, surveillance video released by Metro Nashville Police shows.
Pointing an assault-style weapon, the shooter walked through the school's hallways, the video shows.
As the first five officers arrived, they heard gunfire from the second floor.
The shooter was "firing through a window at arriving police cars," police said in the news release.
Police went upstairs, where two officers opened fire, killing the shooter at 10:27 a.m., police spokesperson Don Aaron said.
After the shooter was dead, children were evacuated from the school and taken in buses to be reunited with their families. They held hands and walked in a line out of the school, where community members embraced, video showed.
"This school prepared for this with active shooter training for a reason," Nashville Metropolitan Councilman Russ Pulley told CNN. "We don't like to think that this is ever going to happen to us. But experience has taught us that we need to be prepared because in this day and time it is the reality of where we are."
Patton, meanwhile, had "called Nashville's non-emergency line at 10:14 a.m. and was on hold for nearly seven minutes before speaking with someone who said that they would send an officer to my home," she told WTVF, but by then the shooting was already underway.
"An officer did not come to my home until 3:29 p.m.," Patton said.
Later, Nashville's police chief commended the five officers for their quick response.
"I was hoping this day would never ever come here in the city. But we will never wait to make entry and to go in and to stop a threat especially when it deals with our children," Drake said in a Monday news conference.
The swift response marked a stark contrast with the delay of more than an hour by law enforcement in Uvalde before that shooter was confronted and killed -- a lag that revived a nationwide conversation about use of force during shootings in public places, especially schools.
'Our community is heartbroken'
Two Covenant School employees are among the victims of Monday's mass shooting, according to the school, which was founded in 2001 and teaches preschool through 6th grade, its website states.
Katherine Koonce was identified as the head of the school, its website says, adding she attended Vanderbilt University and Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville and got her master's degree from Georgia State University.
Mike Hill was identified in the staff section of the Covenant Presbyterian Church's website, which is now offline. He was listed as facilities/kitchen staff. A friend of Mike Hill confirmed his image to CNN. Hill, 61, was a custodian at the school, per police.
"Our community is heartbroken. We are grieving tremendous loss and are in shock coming out of the terror that shattered our school and church. We are focused on loving our students, our families, our faculty and staff and beginning the process of healing," Covenant school said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WZTV.
"Law enforcement is conducting its investigation, and while we understand there is a lot of interest and there will be a lot of discussion about and speculation surrounding what happened, we will continue to prioritize the well-being of our community. We appreciate the outpouring of support we have received, and we are tremendously grateful to the first responders who acted quickly to protect our students, faculty and staff. We ask for privacy as our community grapples with this terrible tragedy -- for our students, parents, faculty and staff," the statement continued.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he is "overwhelmed at the thought of the loss of these families, of the future lost by these children and their families."
"The leading cause of kids' death now is guns and gunfire and that is unacceptable," Cooper said.
A recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in December backs that point, finding that homicide is a leading cause of death for children in the United States and the overall rate has increased an average of 4.3% each year for nearly a decade.
President Joe Biden called the shooting "heartbreaking, a family's worst nightmare," while advocating for gun reform.
Biden said Congress needs to pass an assault weapons ban because we "need to do more to protect our schools." However, a bipartisan solution is extremely unlikely this Congress with a slim Democratic majority in the Senate and a GOP-led House.