The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nashville shooter was hard-working, antisocial in college

Two college instructors struggle to reconcile the quiet student they knew with the person who committed a mass shooting in their community

A women visits the makeshift memorial at the Covenant School the day after Monday's shooting. (Johnnie Izquierdo/for The Washington Post)
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NASHVILLE — At Nossi College of Art and Design, Audrey Hale appeared to be a hard-working and talented student, who sometimes ate lunch alone in a storage closet and didn’t socialize much, according to two of Hale’s former instructors.

During classes, Hale would frequently visit Steve LaSuer’s desk, he said, to talk through assignments. “That meant something to her to make sure she was on target, which any teacher loves to have,” LaSuer said.

Hale was “someone that was very focused but didn’t, kind of, fit the category of all the other artists” LaSuer, 74, said. Hale received an A in LaSuer’s introductory class and another on design and composition.

There is still little publicly known about Hale, 28, who entered a small Christian school on Monday and killed six people, including three children. Nashville police have said they are still trying to determine what motivated the shooting at Covenant School, where Hale was once a student.

Hale’s parents reported that their child was receiving treatment from a doctor for “an emotional disorder,” John Drake, the Nashville police chief, said the day after the attack. But police did not elaborate on the type of treatment, the shooter was receiving.

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

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

Maria Colomy, 47, a former teacher at Nossi, said Hale’s artwork stood out from the crowd. Colomy described it as innocent and sweet, so much so that she thought Hale might end up illustrating children’s books.

Hale described the art as “whimsical and light-hearted” on a website that has since been removed. “Aside from art, I enjoy binging on video games, watching movies, and playing sports. There is a child-like part about me that loves to go run to the playground. Animals are my second passion.”

At Nossi, Hale didn’t interact often with other students, said LaSuer and another instructor, who asked not to be identified to protect her privacy. Hale was focused mostly on classwork and meeting the requirements of assignments, they said.

Instead of eating lunch in the large cafeteria with classmates, Hale, often sporting a baseball cap and sports shirts, would go to a catering kitchen students didn’t use to eat alone, said the instructor.

“She was starting to isolate herself,” LaSuer said.

The other instructor said there was a sensitive side of Hale, too. When the instructor was diagnosed with cancer, Hale burst into tears, sobbing and crying. The interaction struck her as empathetic but also unusually strong for someone not close to her, the instructor said.

When the name of the Nashville shooter was made public Monday, LaSuer said he felt sick to his stomach. “This is the first time I’ve felt a tearing in my gut,” he said.

“You try to be aware of different things going on. … But she was such a good student, you know what I mean? She wasn’t one I’d be worried about,” LaSuer said.

His mind and heart have been in turmoil this week, trying to reconcile the disconnect between the hard-working student he knew and the mass shooter who had committed an unthinkable atrocity.

“She was a victim, too,” he said, “of going into darkness.”

During a church service Wednesday morning, LaSuer said his congregation lit seven candles. Six for the three children and three adults killed at Covenant, and one for Hale.

Joanna Slater contributed to this report.