NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A female shooter wielding two “assault-style” rifles and a pistol killed three students and three adults at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday in what marks the latest in a series of mass shootings in a country growing increasingly unnerved by bloodshed in schools.
The suspect also died after being shot by police following the violence at The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school for about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade. Police said the shooter was a 28-year-old woman from Nashville, after initially saying she appeared to be in her teens.
Authorities were working to identify her and whether she had a connection to the school.
The killings come 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.
President Joe Biden was scheduled to address the Nashville shooting on Monday afternoon after first lady Jill Biden spoke about the slayings during a National League of Cities conference in Washington.
“I am truly without words. And our children deserve better,” she said. “We stand – all of us, we stand – with Nashville in prayer.”
The tragedy unfolded over roughly 14 minutes. Police received the initial call about an active shooter at 10:13 a.m.
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 a.m., Aaron said. He 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.
The Covenant School’s victims were pronounced dead at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. One officer had a hand wound from cut glass.
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.
“In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting,” Mayor John Cooper wrote on Twitter. “My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you.”
Jozen Reodica heard the police sirens and fire trucks blaring from outside her office building nearby. As her building was placed under lockdown, she took out her phone and recorded the chaos.
“I thought I would just see this on TV,” she said. “And right now, it’s real.”
On WTVF TV, reporter Hannah McDonald said that her mother-in-law works at the front desk at The Covenant School. The woman had stepped outside for a break Monday morning and was coming back when she heard gunshots, McDonald said during a live broadcast. The reporter said she has not been able to speak with her mother-in-law but said her husband had.
The Covenant School was founded as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in 2001, according to the school’s website. The school is located in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood just south of downtown Nashville, situated close to the city’s top universities and home to the famed Bluebird Café – a beloved spot for musicians and song writers.
The grade school has 33 teachers, the website said. The school’s website features the motto “Shepherding Hearts, Empowering Minds, Celebrating Childhood.”
Top legislative leaders announced Monday that the GOP-dominant Statehouse would meet briefly later in the evening and delay taking up any legislation.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee said he was “closely monitoring” the situation, while Democratic state Rep. Bob Freeman, whose district includes The Covenant School, called Monday’s shooting an “unimaginable tragedy.”
“I live around the corner from Covenant and pass by it often. I have friends who attend both church and school there,” Freeman said in a statement. “I have also visited the church in the past. It tears my heart apart to see this.”
Nashville has seen its share of mass violence in recent years.
On Christmas Day 2020, a recreational vehicle was intentionally detonated in the heart of Music City’s historic downtown, killing the bomber, injuring three others and forcing more than 60 businesses to close.
A man shot and killed four people at a Nashville Waffle House in April 2018. He was sentenced in February 2022 to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
In September 2017, a masked gunman opened fire at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, walking silently down the aisle as he shot unsuspecting congregants. One person was killed and seven others were wounded. The gunman was sentenced in 2019 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.