Remembering students and school staff killed in Nashville shooting

People gather at a makeshift memorial at the Covenant School the day after the Monday school shooting. (Johnnie Izquierdo for The Washington Post)

Three 9-year-olds. Three adults. They all spent their Monday morning at the Covenant School in Nashville before a shooter opened fire at the private school that serves about 200 students, from prekindergarten through sixth grade.

Nashville police identified the six victims in the shooting as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all age 9; and Katherine Koonce, 60; Cynthia Peak, 61; and Mike Hill, 61. Police officials said none of the victims were targeted by the shooter.

“Our community is heartbroken. We are grieving tremendous loss and are in shock coming out of the terror that shattered our school and church,” the Covenant School said in a statement. “We are focused on loving our students, our families, our faculty and staff and beginning the process of healing.”

At a vigil on March 29 in Nashville, Police Chief John Drake spoke about the emotional toll of the Covenant School shooting that killed six people. (Video: Reuters)

“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,” the school’s statement read.

The children were students at the school and the adults were staff members, police said during an afternoon news conference. Koonce is listed on Covenant’s website as the head of the school. Peak was a substitute teacher and Hill was a custodian, police said.

“Ours is a unique challenge — to educate twenty-first-century children in a way that prepares them to impact their culture and think in accordance with timeless Truth,” Koonce writes in a note on the school’s website.

Here is what we know about those who died in the shooting.

Hallie Scruggs, 9

Hallie was the daughter of the lead pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, which is connected to the school. Her father, Chad Scruggs, told ABC News that his child was a gift.

“We are heartbroken,” he told ABC News. “Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus, who will raise her to life once again.”

Scruggs previously was an associate pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, that church said in a statement posted on its website.

“We love the Scruggs family and mourn with them over their precious daughter Hallie,” Park Cities senior pastor Mark Davis said.

On Facebook, the most recent public post on Chad Scruggs’s page was an update from 2018 showing he’d taken the job at Covenant Presbyterian. On Tuesday, it had been flooded with comments from people expressing their condolences and offering prayers.

Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9

Evelyn, a third-grader, was remembered at a Monday night vigil at nearby Woodmont Christian Church, the Tennessean reported.

Woodmont senior minister Clay Stauffer said Evelyn had a sister in fifth grade.

“I don’t want to be an only child,” her sister said, crying, according to the newspaper.

“Our hearts are completely broken. We cannot believe this has happened. Evelyn was a shining light in this world,” the Dieckhaus family said in a statement to WSMV, the Nashville TV station reported during live coverage Tuesday.

William Kinney, 9

William had an unflappable spirit and knew no strangers, family friend Rachael Freitas wrote for a GoFundMe campaign created Tuesday that has since been closed to the general public.

Will “was unfailingly kind, gentle when the situation called for it, quick to laugh, and always inclusive of others,” Freitas wrote. He loved and adored his family.

More than 700 donors had contributed by Tuesday night, and there were prayers and condolences offered to the child’s relatives.

“Our hearts our broken for his family as they try to find their way forward,” the post reads.

Katherine Koonce, 60

Koonce was known as a profound educator with a great love for children.

“Never before have we known more about the skills and experiences students need to be successful and develop skills. But, we must be about more,” she wrote in the school’s welcome note.

A short biography on the Penguin Random House website lists Koonce as the author of the book Parenting the Way God Parents. She had more than 18 years of experience working in private practice with families, as well as in a variety of school and community settings including as the director of learning support services at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville.

She held degrees from Vanderbilt, Georgia State and Trevecca Nazarene universities, according to the school’s website.

Diane Button, a friend of Koonce’s, told People that Koonce made a difference in her family’s life while her daughter attended Christ Presbyterian.

“There is no doubt in my mind that she died while giving herself wholeheartedly to those children and co-workers she loved so much,” Button told People.

Mike Hill, 61

Hill is being remembered as a hero in the school and surrounding community. Friends and family said he loved his job.

Hill’s family released a statement to Nashville NewsChannel 5 saying they are still trying “to grasp any sense of understanding of why this happened.”

“We pray for the Covenant School and are so grateful that Michael was beloved by the faculty and students who filled him with joy for 14 years,” the statement says.

Hill had seven children and 14 grandchildren.

Tim Dunavant said in a Facebook post that he hired Hill to work at the school 13 years ago. Dunavant, who is now a pastor at a church in Hartsville, about an hour north of Nashville, said he and Hill kept in contact through what he called “encouraging texts from out of the blue” Hill would send him.

“He was still working there today when he was shot and killed,” Dunavant wrote on Monday. “I don’t know the details yet. But I have a feeling, when it all comes out, Mike’s sacrifice saved lives. I have nothing factual to base that upon. I just know what kind of a guy he was. And I know he’s the kind of guy that would do that.”

A GoFundMe started for Hill’s family surpassed its original goal of $25,000 within hours.

“Mike, thank you for protecting Nashville’s children,” Anna Puricelli, the campaign organizer and a community parent, said in the GoFundMe note. “While every single loss in a shooting like this is an inexcusable tragedy, Mike is one who should not be overlooked in the wake of this senseless loss.”

Cynthia Peak, 61

When he got the call from an old classmate with the news of Peak’s death, Chuck Owen sat down at the side of his truck, took a deep breath and prayed. It was all he could do.

“It was surreal,” the childhood friend of Peak said in an interview. “She was a sweet soul; [an] absolutely, genuinely committed follower of the Lord Jesus. She was an attentive and caring person.”

Owen shared on Facebook that he has known Peak, whom many knew as Cindy, for decades.

He said his family lived across the street from Peak’s family in Leesville, La., during their growing-up years. Their proximity made Peak and Owen’s sister best friends for much of their life.

“It seems like Cindy was around for all of my childhood,” Owen wrote in a Facebook post.

The last time he saw Peak was in 2015, when his sister died. Owen said Peak was one of the first people to arrive in town after the death. He stayed in touch with Peak, occasionally sharing photos and memories of his sister. He said Peak came from a big family of “good citizens” in a small, tightknit town.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) said that his wife, Maria, was close friends with Covenant substitute teacher Cynthia Peak. (Video: Gov. Bill Lee/YouTube)

For decades, Peak was also a close friend to Tennessee first lady Maria Lee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) said in a video message Tuesday night. Maria Lee taught with both Peak and Koonce, who had been family friends for years, the governor said.

“Cindy was supposed to come over to have dinner with Maria last night after she filled in as a substitute teacher yesterday at Covenant,” Lee said in the video.

Peak’s survivors include her husband, daughter and two sons, Owen said.

The Nashville school shooting

What we know: The Nashville shooter fired 152 rounds into the private Covenant School during a rampage that killed six people, which has unleashed a new wave of anti-trans rhetoric. Released Nashville police bodycam footage shows officers confronting the shooter, and 911 calls capture the horror of the shooting. Experts say the police response in the Nashville school shooting was the “exact opposite” of the the Uvalde massacre response.

The victims: Three 9-year-old children, who were students at the school, and three adult staff members — the head of the school, a substitute teacher and a custodian — were killed. Here’s everything we know about the victims.

Who is the Nashville shooter? Police identified the shooter as Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, of Nashville. Hale was transgender, according to the police chief. Before the shooting, Hale warned a friend of “something bad” in Instagram messages. A motive is currently unknown.