Six people – three children and three staff – have been killed in a shooting by an ex-student at a school in the US city of Nashville, Tennessee.
The assailant, Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, went to the Covenant School armed with two assault-style weapons and a handgun, which she had stashed at her parents’ home.
Once there, Hale carried out the latest in a long string of US mass shootings, adding fuel to a long-running national debate over gun ownership rights and regulations.
Investigators identified Hale as a transgender person and said the suspect harboured “some resentment for having to go to” Covenant as a child. A spokesperson told CNN that Hale used “male pronouns” on a social media profile.
Police named the victims: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. The adult victims were Cynthia Peak, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Mike Hill, 61.
Peak was a substitute teacher, Hill was a janitor and Koonce was described as the Head of School.
The suspect drove to the school in a Honda Fit and got in by firing through one of the school doors, which were all locked.
Video released by Nashville police shows Hale firing at the glass panes on the front doors, then wandering the school’s deserted corridors and walking past a room labelled “Children’s Ministry”.
The 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.
Responding officers shot and killed Hale about 14 minutes after the initial 911 call came in, according to the police.
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.
After the shooting, parents gathered at a nearby church to be reunited with their children. As buses of children arrived, they hung their heads and hands out of the windows to wave to their parents, according to the Tennessean newspaper.
Students walked to safety by holding hands as they left their school surrounded by police cars. They walked to a nearby church to be reunited with their parents, the Associated Press reported.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called for prayers in the wake of Monday’s deadly mass shooting at a Nashville elementary school, adding that “there will be a time to talk about the legislation.”
“I am calling on the people of Tennessee to pray. For the families of victims, for the Covenant family, for those courageous officers, for the family of the shooter, for those who are hurting and angry and confused,” Lee, a Republican, said in a video address on Tuesday evening.
“Prayer is the first thing we should do, but it’s not the only thing.”
Tennessee’s governor revealed that his wife was close friends with the two educators killed in the attack.
“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 Lee in a video posted on his Twitter feed.
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 neighbourhood of Nashville.
Mourners will gather at a vigil on Wednesday at a public park in the heart of Nashville, the Tennessee state capital, to grieve the deaths. The ceremony will commemorate the three 9-year-old students, the school’s head, the substitute teacher and the custodian killed in Monday’s shooting.
(Picture Courtesy: Metro Nashville Police Department)