Three nine-year-old students were among seven people killed in a mass shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday (March 27).
The suspect – a woman wielding two “assault-style” rifles and a pistol – who was killed by police, is believed to be a former student at The Covenant School in Nashville, where the shooting took place.
The incident is the latest in a series of mass shootings in a country growing increasingly unnerved by bloodshed in schools.
The victims were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all nine years old, and adults Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61.
President Joe Biden, speaking at an unrelated event at the White House on Monday, called the shooting a “family’s worst nightmare” and implored Congress again to pass a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.
“It’s ripping at the soul of this nation, ripping at the very soul of this nation,” Biden said.
The website of The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school founded in 2001, lists a Katherine Koonce as the head of the school. Her LinkedIn profile says she has led the school since July 2016.
The attack at The Covenant School which has about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade, as well as roughly 50 staff members comes as communities around the nation are reeling from a spate of school violence, including the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last year; a first grader who shot his teacher in Virginia; and a shooting last week in Denver that wounded two administrators.
“I was literally moved to tears to see this and the kids as they were being ushered out of the building,” Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at an afternoon news conference.
The suspect’s identity and motive have not been released.
The Covenant School was founded as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church. The affluent Green Hills neighbourhood just south of downtown Nashville, where the Covenant School is located, is home to the famed Bluebird Café a beloved spot for musicians and song writers.
The suspect’s identity as a woman surprised experts on mass shootings. Female shooters make up only about 5 per cent to 8 per cent of all mass shooters, said Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama who has closely studied the psychology and behavior of mass shooters.
There have been seven mass killings at U.S. schools since 2006, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. In all of them, the shooters were males who killed four or more people within a 24-hour time frame at K-12 school.
Researchers believe there are three main explanations for why men commit more shootings than women, according to Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University who has studied mass shootings for more than a decade.
Metzl listed those explanations as: Men have more testosterone, are socialized to be engaged in violence and own more guns than women.
“From school shootings historically, very often we think that people have some historical connection or emotional connection to the school,” he said, calling the Nashville shooting “an untold story”.
Monday’s tragedy unfolded over roughly 14 minutes. Police received the initial call about an active shooter at 10:13 am.
Officers began clearing the first story of the school when they heard gunshots coming from the second level, police spokesperson Don Aaron said during a news briefing.
Two officers from a five-member team opened fire in response, fatally shooting the suspect at 10:27 am, Aaron said. One officer had a hand wound from cut glass.
Aaron said there were no police officers present or assigned to the school at the time of the shooting because it is a church-run school.
Other students walked to safety Monday, holding hands as they left their school surrounded by police cars, to a nearby church to be reunited with their parents.
(With inputs from agencies)