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Nashville police: School shooter planned attack for months

Apr 3, 2023, 11:54 AM | Updated: 1:44 pm

A balloon with names of the victims is seen at a memorial at the entrance to The Covenant School on...

A balloon with names of the victims is seen at a memorial at the entrance to The Covenant School on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As students across Nashville walked out of class on Monday to protest gun violence at the Tennessee Capitol following a school shooting last week, police said the person who killed six people, including three 9-year-old children, had been planning the massacre for months.

Police have not established a motive for the shootings at The Covenant School, a small Christian elementary school where the 28-year-old shooter was once a student, according to a Monday news release from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Both Nashville police and FBI agents continue to review writings left behind by Audrey Hale, both in Hale’s vehicle and home, police said.

“It is known that Hale considered the actions of other mass murderers,” police said.

The three adults were Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school, custodian Mike Hill, 61, and 61-year-old substitute teacher Cynthia Peak.

Hale fired 152 rounds during the attack before being killed by police. That included 126 rifle rounds and 26 nine-millimeter rounds, according to police.

Outside the state Capitol on Monday, thousands rallied in a call for gun reform, many of them students from Nashville-area schools who walked out of their classes en masse.

The crowd echoed chants such as “thoughts and prayers are not enough” and sang along to songs like “All You Need is Love” – adding to it, “and action!” At one point, they sat for a moment of silence, raising posters above their heads that read, “Thoughts and prayers are useless to dead children,” “Book bags not body bags,” and “2nd graders over 2nd amendment.” Some students wore orange shooting-target stickers on their shirts.

Vivian Carlson, a senior at Hume-Fogg High School nearby in downtown Nashville, helped organize her school’s walkout. She told the crowd that her biggest fear last week, when the shooting unfolded, should have been “missing the bus or my stepmom scolding me for not cleaning the cat litter box.” Instead, she said she was missing English class Monday because politicians are “protecting old laws for a new society.”

Carlson, like many others who addressed the crowd, called for changes to Tennessee’s gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons, tougher background checks and a “red flag” law. Red flag laws generally allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate weapons from people whose statements or behavior are deemed to make them a danger to themselves or others.

“To my fellow students, we cannot let this pressure and fire escape us,” Carlson said. “Feel the fear as you walk into school and let it inspire you to fight for change. And please, if there is one thing you can do, I beg you to vote.”

Tennessee’s Republican governor and supermajority Republican legislature have moved to drop the minimum age for Tennesseans to carry handguns publicly without a permit to 18 — just two years after a new law set the age at 21.

Gov. Bill Lee on Monday unveiled a proposal to allocate enough funding to place a school resource officer in every public school, increase school building security and boost mental health resources. The announcement marks the first public address the governor has made since last week’s shooting.

Lee’s proposal did not include any gun control measures, but noted that “there is much to do even after today.”

Police have said Hale was under a doctor’s care for an undisclosed “emotional disorder.” However, authorities haven’t disclosed a link between that care and the shooting. Police also said Hale was not on their radar before the attack.

Social media accounts and other sources indicate that the shooter identified as a man and might have recently begun using the first name Aiden. Police have said Hale “was assigned female at birth” but used masculine pronouns on a social media profile. However, police have continued to use female pronouns and the name Audrey to describe Hale.

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Nashville police: School shooter planned attack for months