The suspect accused of storming a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday morning, killing three kids and three adults, has been identified as a “quiet” 28-year-old former art student who once attended the church-based school.
The Nashville Metro Police Department identified the suspect as Audrey Elizabeth Hale, who was shot dead by cops just 14 minutes after The Covenant School first called police to report an active shooter. The victims were identified as students Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all aged 9, as well as head of school Katherine Koonce, 60, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, and school custodian Mike Hill, 61.
A source close to the Hale family told The Daily Beast on Monday night that Hale was autistic, but high-functioning.
“And relatively recently announced she was transgender, identifying as he/him,” the source said, asking to remain unnamed so as to avoid additional family strife.
While police initially described the suspect as a 28-year-old white woman, a LinkedIn profile, which the source confirmed to The Daily Beast as belonging to Hale, listed he/him pronouns. Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference Monday afternoon that Hale was transgender.
A search of Hale’s home turned up “maps drawn of the school, in detail, so, surveillance, entry points, et cetera,” Drake said, as well as a “manifesto” and “some writings that pertain to this date, the actual incident… of how this was all going to take place.” Inside a Honda Fit that Hale drove and parked at the school campus Friday morning, cops found “additional material written by Hale,” police said in a tweet.
Drake said investigators have a working theory on a possible motive, but that it’s not confirmed. Covenant was “the only school that was targeted,” according to Drake, who added, “[t]here was another location that was mentioned.”
“But because of a threat assessment by the suspect, too much security, they decided not to,” Drake said.
Hale was armed with an AR-style rifle, an AR-style pistol, and a handgun—and used the guns to shoot through a locked side entrance to the school, Drake said. Two of the guns were “obtained legally, locally here,” he said.
Reached by phone, Hale’s mother, Norma Fort Hale, told an ABC News reporter, “It’s very difficult now, we ask for privacy. I really can’t talk right now, I think I lost my daughter today.”
A LinkedIn profile says Hale started a freelance illustration and graphic design business last year after attending, and working for, Nossi College of Art in Madison, Tennessee. At Nossi, Hale won an award for “most improved” in 2015, according to the school’s site.
Hours after the shooting, police searched a home just three miles away from the school. A neighbor, Sandy Durham, who is also a family friend of the Hales, said the ATF told her they were there “to see what was going on next door [at the Hale house].”
“I do know Audrey, I’ve known her since she was a baby. I had just gotten out of the shower when all of this started happening. I didn’t really know anything more than that. Something was going on next door. It’s just tragic for everybody. The sweet children that were hurt, killed, the adults. All of it,” she told The Daily Beast.
Asked if there were any warning signs about Hale, Durham responded, “Never. She was very sweet. I don’t know what happened. It’s very scary.”
Another resident of the neighborhood, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Sean, said the Hales were “our neighbors for basically ever on that street. As long as I can really remember growing up as a kid.”
Hale was a “normal, nice person. Maybe a little quiet,” he said.
“If I had to imagine, Audrey’s parents are probably just as shocked as everybody in the neighborhood is… It just doesn’t seem real,” he said. “There’s nothing that would have led me to believe that she was capable of such a thing or that she or anybody in that family would have access to, much less ever used, a gun. They just don’t seem like the family that, like, is around guns. They’re not talking about going to a gun range or they’re not going hunting.”
He said that, growing up, his family had a basketball hoop in their driveway and Hale would come over and shoot hoops.
Another neighbor told The Daily Beast they heard a “huge boom” as police entered the family’s home.
“My son and I were having lunch around 1 o’clock, and we heard a huge boom that shook our house, and had no idea what it was,” said Abigail Ashford-Grooms, who said she lives several doors down. “And when we peeked out the door, there were undercover police cars and ambulances and fire trucks blocking the street. And then we noticed all of our neighbors start to creep out at the same time.”
Hale entered Covenant, a school of about 200 preschool to sixth-grade students, through a side entrance just after 10 a.m. Monday, police said. Hale fired multiple shots while moving from the first floor to the second, before a team of five Nashville cops arrived on scene and almost immediately confronted the shooter on the second floor.
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