Nashville shooter fired 152 bullets, left suicide note

The Covenant School. (Photo via Metro Nashville Police Department / Twitter)

New details have emerged in the search for a motive in the March 27 mass shooting that killed three children and three adults at The Covenant School, a private Christian K-6 school in Nashville. The shooter, Audrey Hale, 28, was killed by police. The Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) are still analyzing “incredibly detailed” writings by Hale in journals and said that Hale “planned to commit mass murder” for months and “considered the actions of other mass murderers” while developing the deadly plot.

In what the MNPD told PGN is an ongoing investigation, MNPD have determined thus far that Hale acted “totally alone,” and that Hale had been planning the attack on the school and others “for months,” writing out detailed plans about the attack and others, which included drawings of the school, in a series of journals and other writings which were found at the shooter’s home and in their car. 

Hale, who had recently begun identifying as a trans man according to a former professor, Maria Colomy, and had put he/him pronouns on their since-removed social media, was under a doctor’s care for an undisclosed “emotional disorder,” according to MNPD. 

Police said Hale drove to the school and began firing into the doors, killing the first victim, custodian Mike Hill, 61. Hale then went through the school and began shooting victims “indiscriminately” 10 minutes after the first shots. Police believe one of the victims, school headmistress Katherine Koonce, 60, had attempted to stop Hale, but was killed. 

The third staffer killed was Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher at the school. The children were all 9 years old: William Kinney, Evelyn Dieckhaus, and Hallie Scruggs. Scruggs was the only daughter of Chad Scruggs, the senior pastor at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, which shares a location with the Covenant School.

MNPD said Hale fired a total of 152 bullets and had already killed all six victims when MNPD arrived on scene. Police were fired upon from a second floor window by Hale, leading police to believe that Hale had weapons training. That theory was substantiated by information gathered at Hale’s home in Hale’s personal papers. 

Two MNPD police officers, Michael Collazo and Rex Engelbert, found Hale on the second floor in a common area of The Covenant School. Engelbert discharged a total of four 5.56 rounds from his rifle and Collazo discharged a total of four rounds from a nine millimeter pistol, killing Hale. Engelbert has been with MNPD for four years while Collazo has served for nine years. 

Body cam worn by Engelbert shows the entirety of the search for Hale. All but the final moments where Hale is killed have been shown by various media. Collazo told media in a press conference on April 4 that he had to step over a victim while the two men were searching for Hale and that was a “moral quandary,” but the victim was deceased and they had to stop the shooter. 

In a statement to PGN, MNPD said Hale wrote detailed plans in journals written months before the attack on The Covenant School. The MNPD searched Hale’s home on Monday, April 3, with a search warrant. MNPD found a suicide note, personal journals, weapons, ammunition, several personal electronic devices, including computers and cell phones, among other things relevant to the investigation. The search warrant also revealed that the shooter’s 28th birthday was March 24, just days before the mass shooting at the school.

In a statement provided to PGN, MNPD said,“The ongoing investigation into the March 27 murders of six persons inside The Covenant School continues to show, from all information currently available, that killer Audrey Hale acted totally alone. In the collective writings by Hale found in her vehicle in the school parking lot, and others later found in the bedroom of her home, she documented, in journals, her planning over a period of months to commit mass murder at The Covenant School.” 

The MNPD said, “The writings remain under careful review by the MNPD and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit based in Quantico, Virginia. The motive for Hale’s actions has not been established and remains under investigation by the Homicide Unit in consultation with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. It is known that Hale considered the actions of other mass murderers.”

The MNPD also said that “the investigation shows that Hale fired a total of 152 rounds (126 5.56 rifle rounds and 26 nine millimeter rounds) from the time she shot her way into the school until she was killed by police….The MNPD’s Homicide Unit is leading the investigation into the murders of the six victims. The Cold Case Unit is working on the investigation of the fatal police shooting of Hale.”

The MNPD is not releasing the suicide note or details of what is in it, but Averianna Patton, a fellow member of the 2008-2009 Isaiah T. Creswell middle school girls basketball team with whom Hale played, received texts from Hale three minutes before the shooting began in which Hale said, “This is basically a suicide note. I’m planning to die today” and “You’ll probably hear about me on the news after I die … This is my last goodbye” and “One day this will make more sense. I’ve left more than enough evidence behind. But something bad is about to happen,” according to screen grabs. 

Among the 47 items found and logged by MNPD in the search were “3 folders, 19 journals,” and included “firearms courses” and “school shootings” in parentheses near the entry, according to the search warrant. MNPD declined to provide further details of what was found and its relevance to the investigation.

The MNPD also found an undated school photo of Hale which has been shown by various media and five yearbooks from The Covenant School, which Hale attended as a child.

More information has also been revealed about Hale’s complicated interactions with former friends and teammates from that basketball team on which Patton and others played. Several of Hale’s former teammates spoke with local Tennessee media about their relationships with Hale, describing Hale as having trouble fitting in, but that they had tried to embrace Hale and make Hale comfortable and part of the team, which was not at Hale’s Covenant school. Patton said when they were on the team together, Hale was “very quiet, very shy.”

Hale is remembered by teammates and others as a “shy, small kid at a school where everyone made the team,” according to Antoine Buchanan, a former head coach at Creswell who coached Hale. Buchanan is now the head varsity girl’s basketball coach at Antioch High School in Nashville. Buchanan’s description of Hale echoes that of the former vice president of Hale’s college, Nashville School of the Arts, Byron Edwards, who described Hale to CNN as, “…the sweetest little thing” adding that Hale “was really shy and really good.” 

But Hale’s behavior was unsettling for others with some teammates describing Hale’s preoccupation with them and the team as “obsessive” and “stalkerish.”

“Audrey was super timid when we first met her,” said Patton, who was a year ahead of Hale in school. “We had real camaraderie. As far as on the court, we were like a family.”

Mia Phillips was also on the Creswell team, but like Patton, attended Creswell, not Covenant.“We felt she was shy,” Phillips said. “So we embraced her and really befriended her.”

But Phillips told The Tennessean that Hale’s continued pursuit of her and other former teammates through social media and turning up at parties and events to which Hale had not been invited long after they had ceased to be friends was “unnerving” — a term Patton also used. 

“I’m trying to be as respectful and also as honest as possible,” Phillips said. “It felt obsessive. It felt like stalkerish behavior.”

In February 2022, Hale showed up uninvited to a birthday party that was attended by some members of that middle school team, Phillips said. Phillips hadn’t seen Hale in person for many years, she said.

“Everybody was confused,” Phillips said. “It was just rubbing us in a weird way of like, giving us a really negative feeling. It didn’t feel right.”

Phillips also saw Hale at the celebration of life for their former teammate Sidney Sims, who died in an August 2022 car crash in Nashville. Hale followed Phillips to her car and “wanted to hang out.” 

Phillips said she told Hale, “I was expressing to her that it was not the time or the place, that we were all grieving.”   

In a private Instagram post shared with The Tennessean, Taylor Sims, sister of Sidney, described how she and her sister had not had any contact with Hale for years until Hale attended Sims’ funeral, but said Hale then showed up uninvited to another Sims family event. Taylor Sims said that she didn’t even know how Hale had gotten the information and that it was inappropriate and “odd” for Hale to be there. 

Hale had, according to Colomy, been deeply impacted by Sims death.

Tennessee Republican Rep. Tim Burchett wants Hale’s manifesto  released. “We need to know what was going through this person’s head, and the manifesto should be made public,” Burchett told Fox News Digital in an April 4 statement.

“Our trans youth are troubled,” Burchett said. “If they don’t get the help they need they can grow up to have some serious issues, but I obviously don’t believe they’ll all grow up to be shooters like this.”

MNPD said that they expect to release more information about Hale as their investigation continues.   

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.