The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Police: Nashville shooter was under a doctor’s care for ‘emotional disorder’

A woman prays at a memorial outside the Covenant School in Nashville. (Johnnie Izquierdo for The Washington Post)
8 min

NASHVILLE — The attacker who killed six people at a small Christian school in Nashville had been receiving treatment for “an emotional disorder” and hid several weapons from their parents before opening fire, police said Tuesday.

The parents thought 28-year-old Audrey Hale “should not own weapons” and wrongly believed Hale had only owned one gun, which was sold, according to John Drake, the Nashville police chief. But the shooter had legally purchased seven guns at five local gun stores, Drake said, and on Monday morning used three of them to attack the school Hale once attended, killing three small children and three adults.

While the attacker left behind what Drake called a “manifesto,” he said investigators are still trying to determine what could have motivated the massacre at the Covenant School, an academy within a Presbyterian church that averages about 200 grade-school students.

Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake on March 28 said the assailant who killed six people at a school had purchased the weapons in five stores. (Video: Reuters)

It appears, police said, that the school itself was the shooter’s target, rather than any individual people there. Authorities said the six victims included three students — Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9 — as well as staff members Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.

Remembering the students, staff members killed in Nashville school shooting

Authorities said the carnage Monday morning ended when police officers confronted and killed Hale on the school’s second floor. On Tuesday morning, the Nashville police released video footage showing officers scouring the school amid pounding gunfire before eventually confronting and killing the shooter.

Monday’s massacre was the latest in the seemingly endless chain of shooting rampages that have become grimly consistent features of American life. Over just the past year, attacks have left dozens dead and maimed in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, Calif.; Chesapeake, Va.; Colorado Springs; Highland Park, Ill.; Uvalde, Tex.; and Buffalo, among other places.

In Nashville, the shooting carried unmistakable echoes of previous attacks. Researchers have found that such assailants tend to have alarmed people around them beforehand, often signaled their desire to carry out some form of violence and usually bought their guns legally. On Tuesday, details emerged suggesting that all three were the case in Nashville.

Averianna Patton, a former middle school basketball teammate of the shooter, said she received alarming messages from Hale less than 15 minutes before Hale stormed the school.

“This is my last goodbye,” the shooter wrote in the one of the Instagram messages, copies of which were shared with The Washington Post. Patton responded that Hale had much more life to live. “I just need to die,” Hale replied. “Something bad is about to happen.”

What an AR-15 does to the body

Patton said she immediately contacted her father, who told her to call a suicide prevention hotline. After doing so, Patton said, she was told to call the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office because she was not the person in danger. The sheriff’s office referred her to the non-emergency line for the Nashville police.

She called that number at 10:14 a.m. — one minute after police say they received the first 911 call about gunshots at the Covenant School — and was put on hold for several minutes. Patton, 28, told an operator that a friend was going to take their own life and asked that someone check on Hale. But, Patton said, she did not have Hale’s address or phone number. A spokesman for the police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Patton said she was still mystified as to why the attacker contacted her. She recalled Hale as timid and shy when they were on the same basketball team. They had attended the same high school — a public arts school in Nashville, which the shooter graduated from in 2014 — and sometimes interacted on social media, but were not close.

“I’m still asking God the same question,” Patton said in an interview Tuesday.

Two days before the attack, Julia Tidwell, 61, said, the shooter came to her home to celebrate their birthday with Tidwell’s daughter. Tidwell said her daughter, 28-year-old Nikki, had met the shooter at the Nossi College of Art. The two shared a reclusive streak, Tidwell said, and would spend hours together in Nikki’s room playing video games and drawing.

“I just never saw anything bad in her, never,” Tidwell said.

The shooter graduated from Nossi in 2022, Cyrus Vatandoost, the school’s president and chief executive, said in an email Tuesday. “While at our school,” Vatandoost wrote, the future attacker “was a talented artist and a good student.”

Skip to end of carousel
When is something a mass killing?
The Washington Post uses the term mass killing to describe any event in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, are killed by gunfire.
The Post generally only uses the term mass shooting when we’re citing an organization such as the Gun Violence Archive whose definition differs from ours. The GVA defines a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, are injured or killed by gunfire, including events with no fatalities.
Are these events becoming more common?
In 2022, there were 647 mass shootings (here are the events in 2023 so far.). In 2021, 2020 and 2019, there were 690, 610 and 417, respectively. Before that, the Gun Violence Archive tracked fewer than 400 a year since 2014. Most gun deaths continue to be from suicides and homicides, with men making up the majority of both perpetrators and victims.
How to stay safe in a mass shooting
Every situation is different, but experts advise that you try to stay down, small and out of sight; move away from the gunfire as quickly as is safe; and hide behind a wall if possible.
Where to find support
News of mass killings can be upsetting, especially if you are dealing with violence-related trauma. But help is available. You can call or text 988 for the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline if you’re experiencing any kind of crisis (it’s not only for suicidal thoughts). Here are more resources.


End of carousel

Maria Colomy, 47, a former teacher at Nossi, said Hale’s artwork stood out from the crowd. Colomy described it as whimsical and innocent, so much so that she thought Hale might end up illustrating children’s books. Colomy stopped teaching at the school in 2017 but remained connected with Hale on social media. Hale had been posting about grief and missing a woman who had died, she said.

Colomy said that she knows people want to call the attacker “pure evil, but she was a person, and she was suffering.”

The staggering scope of U.S. gun deaths goes far beyond mass shootings

In a statement, the Nashville police said the shooter arrived at the school Monday “heavily armed with three guns, two of them assault-type weapons,” gaining access to the building by blasting through the glass on some of the doors.

Police said Hale was transgender, citing a social media profile in which Hale used masculine pronouns; The Post has not confirmed how Hale identified.

Drake, the police chief, said investigators had interviewed the shooter’s parents. Hale was receiving a “doctor’s care for an emotional disorder,” Drake told reporters at a news briefing; he did not elaborate on what that disorder was or the nature of the treatment.

But Drake said the parents did not think their child should have weapons, and when Hale sold one, they incorrectly believed there were no more. “As it turned out,” Drake said, the attacker “had been hiding several weapons within the house,” suggesting the person lived with their parents.

The shooter left the home Monday carrying a red bag. The shooter dismissed a question about what was in it, and the parents did not look into the bag, not knowing their child had other weapons, Drake said. After the attack, police also found two shotguns in the home.

The home sits in a neighborhood more than three miles from the school, amid stately houses rising up behind expansive, manicured lawns. Attempts to reach the attacker’s family since the shooting have been unsuccessful. Neighbors either did not respond when a reporter knocked on their doors or declined to comment on the family.

Investigators have recovered what Drake called a “manifesto” from the shooter. On Tuesday afternoon, he described this as extensive writing that talked about the school, including a map and a drawing depicting the attack, along with “other locations.” In a television interview earlier Tuesday, Drake said it appeared that other possible targets may have included “family members, and one of the malls here in Nashville.”

Police have released photos and videos from the scene, including apparent security camera footage showing the attacker arriving at the school and shooting through glass doors to get inside. They have also posted photographs on social media of the three guns they say the attacker used, along with images of a second-story window at the school with glass broken out. The shooter, they say, fired on arriving police vehicles from that elevated position.

The Nashville police also released body-camera footage from the two officers they say shot and fatally wounded the attacker.

The footage appears to mark a significant contrast from what happened in Uvalde last year and in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, when multiple officers were criticized for lingering outside and not rushing in to confront active shooters inside schools.

In the Nashville police footage, Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo are identified as the two officers wearing the cameras capturing the scene. They are both seen rushing with other officers through the school, hurrying down the hallways as they check classrooms and bathrooms with audible urgency.

The officers progress upstairs, and as they get closer to the shooter, the sound of gunfire becomes louder and louder. In one grim moment, police rushing to confront the attacker hurry by a row of brightly colored children’s backpacks dangling on hooks. On the ground nearby is the blurred-out image of what appears to be one of the victims.

When the officers confront the shooter, they fire off several shots, and the attacker can be seen crumpling to the ground. At one point, the footage labeled as coming from Collazo’s camera captures him approaching the shooter, who is on the ground, partially blurred out.

“Suspect down, suspect down!” the officer shouts. Hale, lying amid broken glass, appears to be still clutching a weapon, which the officer pulls free.

Slater reported from Williamstown, Mass. Berman reported from Washington. Maham Javaid, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Andrea Salcedo contributed to this report.


An earlier version of this article said that Averianna Patton called the local sheriff’s office on Monday after receiving distressing Instagram messages from Audrey Hale. It omitted that the sheriff’s office then told her to call the non-emergency number for the Nashville police, which she did at 10:14 a.m. The article has been corrected.

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.