Nashville police say Christian school shooter identified as trans

  • by Brody Levesque, Washington Blade
  • Tuesday March 28, 2023
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Police investigate the March 27 mass shooting at The Covenant School, which is adjacent to Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Drive in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Courtesy Nashville Metro Police Department
Police investigate the March 27 mass shooting at The Covenant School, which is adjacent to Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Drive in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Courtesy Nashville Metro Police Department

Nashville police said that a person who opened fire at a private Christian school Monday was a former student who identified as transgender.

Six people — three children and three adults — were killed, authorities said, adding that the shooter was killed by police.

In a news conference Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters that earlier Monday morning a person he described as a 28-year-old local female armed with two "assault-type rifles and a handgun," was killed by responding officers.

"At one point she was a student at that school," Drake told reporters hours after the shooting at the Covenant School. "But unsure what year [...] but that's what I've been told so far."

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to the chief, who said that Hale identified as transgender.

Asked if the shooter's gender identity had played a role in what he described as a "targeted attack," Drake said it was part of the police investigation.

"There is some theory to that," Drake said, according to the Washington Post. But, he added, "We're investigating all the leads, and once we know exactly, we will let you know."

The Post reported Tuesday that Don Aaron, a police spokesman, later clarified the chief's remarks. "Audrey Hale is a biological woman who, on a social media profile, used male pronouns," Aaron wrote in an email.

The Los Angeles Times reported that police did not respond to requests for clarity around Hale's gender identity, chosen name, or pronouns.

Police identified the three slain students as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age 9.

The three faculty members killed were Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, both 61, and school head Katherine Koonce, 60.

At his only scheduled public event at the White House Monday, President Joe Biden called the shooting "sick" and renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

Drake noted that the shooter was killed on the school's second floor by his officers, acknowledging that the victims were students and staff members of the school.

Gays Against Guns issued a statement Tuesday morning decrying the latest incidence of gun violence.

"Gays Against Guns is beyond angry and horrified as the news unfolds of another devastating mass shooting that killed three children and three adult staff members at The Covenant School in Nashville, TN," the group stated. "The shooting is deeply disturbing on many levels and is the latest tragedy in a uniquely American legacy of carnage that takes the lives of Americans in their places of worship, homes, and schools on a near-daily basis."

The organization, which formed in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June 2016, also commented on the shooter's reported trans identity.

"We cannot divorce this horrendous act from the fact that the shooter identified as trans in a state whose governing party has declared war on transgender adults and children, as well as on any gender expression that does not adhere to a strict biological and presentational gender binary," the group stated. "Only two weeks ago the Tennessee Senate passed SB 1440, a bill that aims to codify discrimination against LGBTQ+ people into law."

Equality California and the California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus on Monday evening issued a joint statement on the shooting.

"The sickeningly repetitive cycle of American gun violence is an issue that touches all our communities," stated EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang, a gay man. "Indeed, LGBTQ+ Americans are disproportionately likely to be victims of gun violence. So, it is deeply upsetting — but unfortunately unsurprising — that right-wing extremists are exploiting this tragedy to demonize trans people based on vague information released regarding today's perpetrator. Let's be clear — trans people exist in every country. Yet, the U.S. is the only developed nation in which gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and teenagers."

Lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) is chair of the California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus. She also decried the mass shooting.

"What happened today in Nashville, Tennessee is an unspeakable tragedy," Eggman stated. "I condemn the use of violence that happens today wholeheartedly. Just because you have experienced trauma or pain at the hands of another it does not give you the right to pass that pain onto others. Our heart goes out to all the families and people affected by the terrible violence that took place at Covenant School today.

"Regardless of the gender identity of the shooter, the common denominator of these despicable incidents is gun violence," Eggman added. "Every state in this nation has to come together in the fight for gun control to stem the seemingly endless cycle of gun violence in the country. Everyone deserves the right to feel safe in their schools, churches, and communities."

Gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego), vice chair of the caucus, said that more attention needs to be paid to gun violence.

"Instead of focusing on real solutions like gun violence prevention measures that the majority of Americans support and desperately want Congress to enact, some are focused on the gender identity of the shooter," Ward stated. "This is a distraction from the fact that firearms are now the leading cause of death for American children. I absolutely condemn the actions of the shooter today and all mass shooters who threaten the safety of us all."

The Covenant School has students from preschool through sixth grade and, on a normal day, has about 200 students and 40 staff members on campus.

In a statement, Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee tweeted: "I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant. As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community."

The Bay Area Reporter contributed reporting.

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