(Trends Wide) — The woman in front of the Nashville Covenant School was calm and direct. The building was closed, but two young students were still missing.
“Upstairs,” he told agent Rex Engelbert, “there’s a bunch of kids.”
After being let into the school by another staff member, Engelbert, whose body camera footage showed a grueling step-by-step of the final throes of a massacre that killed three 9-year-olds and three staff members, walked inside. in a hurry.
Minutes later, the person identified as the alleged attacker, 28, was shot to death by police on the second floor of the private Christian elementary school.
The shocking videos, which show officers running through hallways filled with children’s backpacks and jackets before confronting the suspect, once again horrified a nation seeking answers after yet another mass shooting.
New details about the suspect in the attack, Audrey Hale, continue to emerge and the search for the motive continues.
Hale had attended school and had been undergoing treatment for an “emotional disorder,” Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake said Tuesday. Law enforcement also revealed that Hale had left writings suggesting the attack had been carefully planned in advance.
an ominous message
That Monday morning began with an unexpected message.
Averianna Patton, a Nashville radio host and Hale’s former elementary school basketball teammate, received a series of messages from Hale, she told Trends Wide.
“I plan to die today,” Hale wrote, adding that Patton would hear about it on the news.
Patton had not been in contact with Hale for years until she received that direct message on Instagram at 9:57 a.m., she said.
“Someday this will make more sense,” Hale added in the messages. “I have left more than enough evidence. But something bad is about to happen.”
Baffled by the cryptic messages, Patton said she contacted her father, who urged her to act.
Patton contacted a suicide hotline and then the Nashville Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
He said he called police at 10:13 a.m., the same time the department received its first 911 call about an active shooting at the school.
He waited seven minutes to speak to an operator. By then, the deadly shooting at The Covenant School had already begun.
A school turned into a war zone
Standing at a side entrance to the school, Hale fired shots that shattered the glass door, surveillance video shows. Hale, with three weapons, can be seen sneaking through the broken door and entering.
Janitor Mike Hill was shot through that door, police said. The 61-year-old man, known to students at the school as “Big Mike,” was one of the first to lose his life.
In the minutes that followed, three children—Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs—and two more adults were killed: substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, and Katherine Koonce, 60, the school’s principal.
At 10:18 a.m., the person suspected of the attack on surveillance footage is seen walking through the hallways while flashing fire alarm lights and pointing an assault weapon.
Six minutes later, the police entered to the sound of alarms blaring. Footage from Engelbert’s body camera shows officers running through hallways decorated with children’s artwork, inspecting classrooms in an increasingly desperate search for the attacker. Some doors open to dark rooms, with desks and small chairs without occupants; other classrooms are locked.
Then the sound of gunshots shakes the hallway. “I think it’s up, it looks like it’s up,” an agent says in the video. As the police run up the stairs towards the rumble, the noise grows louder.
They found the suspect in the attack in a second-story hallway with tall, bright windows that overlooked the parking lot.
At 10:27 a.m., Engelbert fired four shots at the person suspected of the attack, who is seen collapsing on his body camera footage.
Fellow officer Michael Collazo then approached the fallen attack suspect with a pistol, fired more rounds and yelled: “Stop moving! Suspect down!”
Collazo yelled twice into his radio. Then, after gasping for breath, he sent out a “Free lines” order, a request to stop all unnecessary radio traffic so his team could communicate without interruption.
“Our hearts are completely broken”
The killings marked the 19th deadly shooting at a US school or university this year alone and come less than a year after the attack in Uvalde, Texas, in which a man armed with AR15-style rifles killed 19 minors and two female teachers.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, community members paid their respects for the lives lost and placed bouquets, toys, balloons and a flower-covered cross on a makeshift memorial outside the school.
“Our hearts are completely broken,” Evelyn’s family said in a statement. “We can’t believe this happened. Evelyn was a shining light in this world.”
Hallie was the daughter of Covenant Presbyterian Church senior pastor Chad Scruggs, according to a statement from Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, a sister church Scruggs previously served.
“We love the Scruggs family and grieve with them for their precious daughter Hallie,” said the Texas congregation’s senior pastor, Mark Davis. “Together, we trust in the power of Christ to reach out and give us the comfort and hope we desperately need.”
Hill, Peak and Koonce’s loved ones also expressed their bereavement feelings.
Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee, whose wife, Maria, had been a close friend of Peak’s, said: “Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends, Cindy Peak… Cindy was supposed to come over for dinner. with Maria last night after she worked as a substitute teacher yesterday.
Lee’s wife, Peak and Koonce, had taught together and had known each other “for decades,” Lee added.
Koonce had been a faculty member for 16 years, according to a statement posted on the school’s website, and is survived by her husband and two children, who graduated from the college.
“The faculty, staff, and students who worked with her mourn the loss of a dedicated educator, a tenacious leader, and a dear friend,” the statement said.
Koonce’s friend and former colleague, Jim Lee, told Trends Wide that he and his wife flew to Nashville after learning of her death. They described a person with a lively and resourceful character, deeply connected to her students and her staff, but also a fierce administrator.
“He had incredible confidence, but he was a person of religion,” Lee said. “She was an educator, but she also had great pastoral, counseling, and parenting skills, or she had those CEO skills that could tell you to put yourself in their shoes.”
On Facebook, Hill’s daughter, Brittany Hill, wrote that her father “absolutely loved” his work at the school.
“I’ve seen school shootings over the years and never thought I would lose a loved one to someone trying to solve a temporary problem with a permanent solution,” he said. “I am so sorry for the loss of those children.”