Parents were invited into the chapel at The Covenant School in Nashville on Monday morning, like they are every school-day morning. They sung and prayed with the roughly 200 elementary students and 40 or 50 staff at the Presbyterian Church in America school and listened as pastor Matthew Sullivan “raises it to another level,” as one student put it, with his kid-friendly Bible lesson.
A few hours later, though, parents crowded into the sanctuary of Woodmont Baptist Church, two miles down the road, waiting to hear the worst. In the interval, the private Christian school became the site of the 130th mass shooting of 2023, leaving three children and three staff members dead.
“I know this is probably the worst day of everyone’s lives,” a police officer told the crowd. “I can’t tell you how sympathetic we are.”
The three students killed were each 9 years old. Police identified them as Evelyn Dieckhaus, and William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs, who was the daughter of Covenant Presbyterian Church senior pastor Chad Scruggs. The adult victims were head of school Katherine Koonce, 60; substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61; and custodian Mike Hill, 61.
Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said that a 28-year-old former student slipped through a side door carrying two assault rifles and a handgun. Police were called at 10:13 a.m. They arrived less than 15 minutes later and followed the sounds of gunfire to the second floor of the conservative Christian elementary school. They shot and killed the suspect, who they later identified as a transgender person.
Five of the victims were transported to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, about 4 miles away, but pronounced dead on arrival.
“The children … started their morning in their cute little uniforms,” Rachel Dibble, who was at the Baptist church with the waiting families, told the Associated Press. “They probably had some Froot Loops and now their whole lives changed today.”
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been an average of about 1.5 mass shootings per day so far in 2023. The 129th happened earlier on Monday outside a bar in Wisconsin, wounding five adults.
The Nashville shooting is the deadliest attack on a school since 21 students were killed in Uvalde, Texas, last May.
“This is the ultimate crime,” Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk told reporters, “when school children and caregivers are the victims of senseless gun violence.”
Covenant Presbyterian Church started the pre-kindergarten through sixth grade school in 2001. Koonce described the mission of the school as helping the children become who God wanted them to be.
Koonce said at Covenant, students “are able to see and be anchored in the truth of God’s word with respect to who they are. It’s these timeless truths that allow them to engage in life more fully and be successful wherever they go.”
Last Thanksgiving, she told the students she was thankful “because I know that you’re getting to be a child and you don’t have to grow up too fast.”
The school’s most recent Instagram story shows a sanctuary full of small children swaying and singing, “Let the love of God surround you / everywhere, everywhere / you may go.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.