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Nashville mourns after school shooting that killed two friends of governor“s wife

2023-03-29T17:45:35Z

Nashville will hold a vigil later on Wednesday to grieve the three children and three adults shot to death this week at a Christian elementary school, as Tennessee’s governor revealed that his wife was close friends with two educators killed in the attack.

The ceremony will commemorate the 9-year-old students, the school’s head, a substitute teacher and a custodian killed in Monday’s shooting. It will take place at 5:30 p.m. local time at a public park in the heart of the city, the Tennessee state capital.

Over the past two days, mourners have left flowers, balloons and stuffed teddy bears at the gate of the Covenant School, where the attack unfolded on Monday.

Six white crosses were placed nearby, each adorned with a blue heart, the name of one of the victims and a Bible verse: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

The shooting, the latest of dozens carried out at U.S. schools this year alone, has touched a particularly raw nerve, in part because three victims were so young and in part because it scorched Nashville’s tight-knit Christian community.

“Many Tennesseans are feeling the exact same way: The emptiness, the lack of understanding, the desperate desire for answers, the desperate need for hope,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in a video posted on his Twitter feed.

The two educators killed in the attack – substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and the head of Covenant, Katherine Koonce – at one time taught at the same school as the governor’s wife Maria, Lee said. The three remained close friends for decades. Peak and the governor’s wife had planned to have dinner together on Monday, he said.

“I understand there is pain. I understand the desperation to have answers, to place blame, to argue about a solution that could prevent this horrible tragedy,” he said. “This is not a time for hate or rage.”

The three children killed were Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs, whose father is head pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, which is affiliated with the school. In addition to Koonce, 60, and Peak, 61, custodian Mike Hill, 61, was killed in the attack.

First lady Jill Biden is expected to attend Wednesday’s vigil in Nashville, according to Mayor John Cooper, who wrote on social media that Biden would be there “as Nashville mourns and remembers the lives tragically taken from us.”

The assailant, Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, went to the grade school armed with three guns, which were among the seven firearms Hale had legally purchased in recent years, Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake said.

Hale’s parents told police they were unaware of the arsenal, believing that Hale had a single gun that was later sold.

While Hale targeted the school – which serves about 200 students from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade – the suspect did not specifically target any of the victims, police have said.

Investigators are examining maps and writings contained in a 60-page notebook found at Hale’s home, aiming to find clues about what motivated the shooter. The writings suggested plans to carry out shootings at other locations, but authorities have yet to reach any conclusions regarding a motive, Drake said.

Hale was believed to identify as transgender, according to Drake, but he said it was unclear what role, if any, Hale’s gender identity, religious beliefs or educational background played in the attack, stressing that the investigation was in its early stages.

“There may have been some resentment. But we haven’t been able to confirm it,” Drake said during a interview on CNN on Wednesday. “As of right now, we don’t have any indication there was any problems at the school or home.”

Investigators are also looking at the mental health of the shooter, who was under a doctor’s care for an emotional disorder, he said, noting that law enforcement was never contacted and she was never committed to an institution.

As with most high-profile mass shootings, the attack has added fuel to a long-running national debate over gun ownership rights and regulations.

Tennessee has some of the most lax gun laws in the nation. The state does not require a permit to carry a firearm, regardless of whether it is concealed or openly carried.

Monday’s violence marked the 90th school shooting – defined as any incident in which a gun is discharged on school property – in the United States this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, a website founded by researcher David Riedman. There were 303 such incidents last year, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.

“No matter how much destruction there is, they keep making it easier to carry guns,” said Zack Maaieh, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and member of Students Demand Action, a national group that pushes for stronger gun control.

Related Galleries:

Students from the nearby Harpeth Hall School pray while visiting a memorial at the school entrance after a deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 29, 2023. REUTERS/Cheney Orr

An aerial view of the Covenant School which was the site of a deadly shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 29, 2023. REUTERS/Cheney Orr

View of signs placed by children from St. Paul Christian Academy along the street in remembrance after a deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Austin Anthony

Monica Lee, a friend of victim Katherine Koonce, speaks to media at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Austin Anthony

Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, who is the suspect of deadly mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, is seen in an undated handout image released on March 27, 2023. Metropolitan Nashville Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

Sarah Tuck holds her daughter Emmalin Sweeney, 10, during a vigil in Mt. Juliet, held for the victims of a deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Austin Anthony

Shepherd Hollis, Katie Jo Hollis, and Sophie Hollis pray at the memorial for the fallen at the school entrance after a deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 28, 2023. Katie Jo used to teach at the Covenant School, and Shepherd attended as a student. REUTERS/Austin Anthony
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