By Chrisleen Herard
Howard University News Service
Aiden Hale, who was legally born Audrey Elizabeth Hale, had a map of the Nashville Christian school he once attended, detailing its surveillance cameras and entry points. The map allowed the 28-year-old to gain access to The Covenant School, where he was accused of taking six lives on Monday.
“It’s just sick,” President Joe Biden said, hours after the shooting took place. “It’s heartbreaking. A family’s worst nightmare.”
Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9-year-olds, died when Hale began firing rounds through the school’s side doors. Mike Hill, the school custodian, Cynthia Peak, a substitute teacher, both 61, and Katherine Koonce, the Head of School, 60, were also killed.
“I’m planning to die today. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!!!” Hale wrote in an Instagram message to a friend, Averianna Patton, just moments before the shooting, according to WTVF. “You’ll probably hear about me on the news after I die. This is my last goodbye. … One day this will make more sense. … But something bad is about to happen.”
Police first responded to a call at 10:13 a.m. about shots being fired at The Covenant School. Within 14 minutes of officers arriving at the scene, a team of five rushed to Hale, who was shooting from a second-floor window in an attempt to prevent them from entering the building. Ultimately, it would be Officer Rex Englebert and Officer Michael Collazo who shot and fatally struck Hale, putting an end to a shooting that was planned to be “far worse” than the outcome.
“We strongly believe there was going to be some other targets, including maybe family members, and one of the malls here in Nashville,” Police Chief John Drake told CBS Mornings. “And that just did not happen.”
Police are investigating the shooting and believe “resentment” might have been a possible motive for Hale, who attended the private, religious school and recently identified as a transgender male.
“[Hale] was just a typical co-ed. A typical student,” former headmaster Bill Campbell told NBC as he recounted the time Hale attended the institution as a third-grader in 2005.
“I think about this student and our relationship at the time [Hale] was there,” Campbell recalled. “There was nothing extraordinary and unusual. [Hale] was loved and appreciated like all of our students.”
Hale reportedly purchased seven guns, legally, from five different stores in Nashville, according to Drake, but only three were used in the shooting. Hale was later found armed with two assault rifles and a handgun. Police believe, however, that Hale was concealing weapons in his home, along with other items that foreshadowed the deadly incident.
“We have a manifesto. We have a booklet that shows exactly what she had planned to do,” Drake said. “We have maps that show the entry point into the school, the weapons that were going to be used, the clothing that she was gonna wear, and she had drawn it up, almost like a cartoon character. It was exactly what she had on during this incident.”
The United States has had 13 school shootings since the new year started; an equivalent of one shooting per week. Last year held the record for 46 shootings since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
Ironically, Hale shared a petition to “Keep Guns Out of Schools” after the 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School, one of the worst shootings in America’s history. Nonetheless, Hale would later become a school shooter himself.
Two Howard University students, however, continue to call for more restrictions on gun laws.
“I didn’t hear about (the shooting), but it doesn’t surprise me to say the least,” Shania Burrus, a senior architecture major, said. “Honestly, after Sandy Hook, I realized that there’s not much that we can do. … America isn’t a frontier anymore, there’s no reason that we should have this much accessibility to guns. There needs to be more restrictions. … I should(n’t) be fearing for my life going to some place as minuscule as school.”
“My initial reaction was, ‘Why is this happening again?’” Naomi Louis, a sophomore health education major, said. “I’m just disappointed that there still aren’t many laws and regulations that can prevent things like this from happening.”
The battle of gun control in America is an ongoing one as the body toll from mass shootings has surpassed hundreds since 1999, including children. President Biden has advocated for an assault weapon ban in the past, an effort to “hold gun manufacturers accountable,” “get weapons off our streets” and “keep guns out of dangerous hands.” Biden plans to achieve this by prohibiting the production and sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and conducting background checks for future buyers.
Following The Covenant shooting, Biden is once again urging Congress to pass the bill as an attempt to reduce mass shootings throughout the country.
“We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation, ripping at the very soul of the nation. And we have to do more to protect our schools, so they aren’t turned into prisons.”
Chrisleen Herard covers criminal justice for HUNewsService.com.