Mourners will gather at a vigil on Wednesday to grieve the three children and three adults shot to death this week at a Nashville Christian school, as Tennessee’s governor revealed that his wife was close friends with the two educators killed in the attack.
The ceremony will commemorate the three 9-year-old students, the school’s head, a substitute teacher and a custodian killed in Monday’s shooting. It will take place at a public park in the heart of Nashville, the Tennessee state capital.
“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 governor’s wife Maria, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and the head of the school Katherine Koonce previously taught together at another school, he said. All 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 assailant, Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, went to the Covenant School armed with two assault-style weapons and a handgun. Once there Hale carried out the latest in a long string of U.S. mass shootings, adding 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.
Authorities were working to understand why the former Covenant student carried out the shooting at the grade school, which serves about 200 students from preschool to sixth grade in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville.
The entrance to the school remained cordoned off on Wednesday with barricades and several police vehicles. People could be seen placing balloons and flowers around six white wooden crosses, one for each of the shooting’s victims.
The three weapons used on Monday were among seven firearms Hale had legally purchased in recent years from five Nashville-area stores, Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters on Tuesday.
Hale “was under care, a doctor’s care, for an emotional disorder,” the chief told reporters during a news briefing, without elaborating.
Hale left behind a detailed map of the school showing entry points as well as what Drake described as a “manifesto” indicating that Hale may have planned to carry out shootings at other locations.
Drake on Monday said Hale identified as a transgender person, and said investigators believe the suspect harbored “some resentment for having to go to” Covenant as a child.
The chief declined to elaborate and did not say what role, if any, Hale’s gender identity, educational background or other social or religious dynamics might have played. Investigators “don’t have a motive at this time,” he said on Tuesday.
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. Last year saw 303 such incidents, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.
The three children killed were Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. The three adults killed were Koonce, 60; Peak, 61; and custodian Mike Hill, 61.