Nashville school shooter contacted ex-classmate before attack: report

Averianna Patton, a former classmate of Audrey Elizabeth Hale, the Nashville school shooter, in this still taken from an online video. — Twitter

Audrey Elizabeth Hale, the former student of a Christian grade school in Nashville, Tennessee, US,  who killed three 9-year-olds and three adults in a shooting spree, sent messages to Averianna Patton, the shooter’s former classmate before launching the armed attack.

The heavily armed 28-year-old suspect was killed by police. The motive was not immediately known, but the suspect had drawn detailed maps of the school, including entry points for the building, and left behind a “manifesto” and other writings that investigators were examining, local police chief John Drake told reporters.

According to a BBC News report, on Monday morning, Patton received a message on Instagram from a ‘depressed and desperate’ sounding Hale.

“She said that I would see her on the news later on… and something tragic was about to happen,” BBC News quoted Ms Patton as saying.

She immediately called the local sheriff’s office, according to the report.

“I don’t know what she was battling… but I knew it was a mental thing, you know?”  Patton told BBC.

“Just something in my spirit, when she reached out, I just jumped into the mode of trying to call around make sure that I’m doing everything that I could.”

“I later found out that this was not a game, this was not a joke, it was [Hale] who did this,” she said speaking to BBC News. “It’s just been very, very heavy.”

Patton also said that police came to her home that afternoon to review the messages from Hale.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around what we’re going through as a city and trying to find solutions to prevent this from happening again,” she said.

Patton, a local TV personality and influencer in Nashville, also revealed that she and the shooter used to be teammates on the same middle school basketball team.

The suspect,  Patton said, could be “standoffish” at times.

However, the shooter remained in contact with teammates over the years and occasionally attended Patton’s events in the city.

According to Patton, she last ran into the shooter earlier this month.

Now, she’s left turning over the same question plaguing Nashville residents and indeed the rest of the country: why?

“I am asking the same thing. And I guess you know, just we’ll never know. And I’m really sorry. I would have never in a million years imagined this.”

Emotional disorder

The shooter was under a doctor’s care for an “emotional disorder” and had amassed a collection of guns, the city’s police chief said on Tuesday.

New details about assailant Hale emerged hours after police released a harrowing video showing officers storming the Covenant School amid Monday’s rampage and conducting a room-to-room search before confronting and fatally shooting Hale.

Authorities said they were still trying to pin down a motive as detectives pored over various writings and other evidence left by Hale.

Hale was armed with two assault-style weapons and a handgun, the latest in a long string of US mass shootings that have turned schools into killing zones and added fuel to a national debate over gun rights and regulations.

The three weapons used on Monday were among seven firearms that Hale had legally purchased in recent years from five Nashville-area stores, Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters on Tuesday.

Hale’s own parents did not know that Hale possessed multiple firearms, mistakenly believing that Hale had owned just one gun, then sold it, Drake said. The chief added that the mother and father felt Hale should not have owned any weapons due to mental health concerns.

The mother, on seeing Hale leave the house with a red bag Monday morning, had questioned what was in the bag, the chief said.

Hale “was under care, a doctor’s care, for an emotional disorder,” the chief told reporters during a news briefing, without elaborating.

Under Tennessee law, mental illness is not grounds for police to confiscate weapons, unless a person is deemed mentally incompetent by a court, “judicially committed” to a mental institution,” or placed under a conservatorship “because of mental defect.”

Tennessee prohibits selling guns to persons found by a court or other legal authority to pose a danger to themselves or others, or cannot conduct their affairs due to mental illness. But merely being under a doctor’s care would not, in itself, meet that threshold.

Drake said it appeared Hale had some sort of weapons training. Hale fired on officers from the school’s second floor as they arrived in patrol cars while standing back from large windows to avoid becoming an easy target.

Manifesto and unanswered questions

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.

On Monday, Drake said Hale identified as a transgender person, and said investigators believe the suspect harboured “some resentment for having to go to” the Covenant School as a child.

The chief declined to elaborate and did not say what role, if any, Hale’s gender identity, educational background or other social or religious dynamics might have played. Investigators “don’t have a motive at this time,” he said Tuesday.

The shooting came weeks after Tennessee’s legislature thrust the state to the forefront of a political furore over LGBTQ rights by voting to ban gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender children and to place new restrictions on drag performances.

The suspect’s LinkedIn page, listing recent jobs in graphic design and grocery delivery, showed Hale preferred male pronouns.

Video footage

The six minutes of video footage released on Monday, edited together from the body-worn cameras of two responding officers, offered a glimpse of the rampage as it unfolded. The video opens with an officer retrieving a rifle from his trunk as a staff member tells him the school is locked down but two children are unaccounted for.

“Let’s go! I need three!” the officer yells as he enters the building, where alarms can be heard ringing.

The video shows officers clearing one room after another before heading upstairs, where one says, “We’ve got one down.”

Amid the sound of gunfire, the officers race down the hallway – past what appears to be a victim lying on the ground – and into a lounge area, where the suspect is seen dropping to the floor after being shot.

The two officers whose body-worn cameras provided the footage both fire several rounds at the suspect. The video shows the assailant still moving on the floor as another officer repeatedly yells, “Get your hands away from the gun!”

According to a police timeline of the incident, just 14 minutes elapsed from the first reports of a shooting to police neutralising the suspect.

Monday’s violence marked the 90th school shooting – defined as any incident in which a gun is discharged on school property – in the United States this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, a website founded by researcher David Riedman. Last year saw 303 such incidents, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.

The three children killed on Monday were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. The three adults killed were Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school; Mike Hill, 61, a custodian; and Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher.

The Covenant School, founded in 2001, serves about 200 students from preschool to sixth grade in the Green Hills neighbourhood of Tennessee’s state capital, according to the school’s website.

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