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Former student opens fire at a private religious school in Nashville — killing 6

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nashville is in mourning today after a shooting at a small Christian school.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Three adults and three 9-year-old children lost their lives. Police then fatally shot the 28-year-old who killed them. President Joe Biden expressed his condolences and urged Congress to pass an assault weapons ban.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's heartbreaking - a family's worst nightmare. We have to do more to stop gun violence. It's ripping our communities apart.

MARTIN: Tony Gonzalez from member station WPLN in Nashville is with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Tony. What have we learned so far about what happened here?

TONY GONZALEZ, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, we've seen some surveillance video now. It shows the shooter apparently breaking into the school by shooting through some locked glass doors. The police have not shared a motive, but they have been gathering a lot of information about the shooter, who was a former student at that school, Covenant School. Police identified the shooter as Audrey Hale and say the shooter used he/him pronouns. The police and FBI agents - they spent hours at the house where Hale lived, also spoke with his father. Nashville Police Chief John Drake calls all of this a targeted attack that was calculated and planned.

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JOHN DRAKE: We have a manifesto. We have some writings that we're going over that pertain to this day, the actual incident. We have a map drawn out of how this was all going to take place.

GONZALEZ: The chief also says that the three guns the shooter had, including two assault rifles, appear to have been legally obtained locally here.

MARTIN: And Tony, what can you tell us about the victims?

GONZALEZ: Yeah. There are six victims. They're on a lot of minds here today. Three adult staff members, all in their 60s, were killed. One of those was the head of the school, Katherine Koonce, as well as Cynthia Peak, who we are told was a substitute teacher on campus that day, and custodian Mike Hill. The three children were 9 years old - Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. The paramedics rushed them to the nearest children's hospital, but they didn't survive.

MARTIN: And how are people in Nashville reacting to all of this?

GONZALEZ: A lot of fear - I mean, dread, you know, that pit of the stomach feeling when the news broke. Also, anguish and anger - there was anger during the day. People are also trying to, I think, show some kind of resilience. There were multiple vigils that took place. We expect more of those today.

Nashville's mayor - that's John Cooper - he had a lot of praise for the first responders who got to the school. They rushed in, tried to save lives. But he was also pretty frank about it that, you know, the city is now on this list of places that have had to experience a mass shooting inside a school.

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JOHN COOPER: Guns are quick. They don't give you much time. So even in a remarkably fast response, there was not enough time. And those guns stole precious lives from us today in Nashville.

GONZALEZ: There's also a local relief fund that has been set up for the Covenant School.

MARTIN: Tony, before we let you go, as briefly as you can - did the school take measures to keep students safe? What do we know about that?

GONZALEZ: Yeah, I mean, there's not a lot known about that yet. This is a private Christian school. There's no school resource officer there. But we have learned that they did perform active shooter drills and that after the initial incident began, it sounds like some people were able to escape outside to a nearby tree line.

MARTIN: That's Tony Gonzalez from WPLN in Nashville. Tony, thank you.

GONZALEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tony Gonzalez, a reporter in Nashville since July 2011, covers city news, features inspiring people, and seeks out offbeat stories. He’s also an award-winning juggler and hot chicken advocate who lives in East Nashville with his wife, a professional bookbinder. During his time at The Tennessean newspaper, his investigative reporting and feature stories were honored in the state and nationally. Gonzalez grew up near Chicago and came to Nashville after three years reporting and editing at Virginia's smallest daily newspaper, The News Virginian.