Legal battle over shooter’s legacy continues | WORLD
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Legal battle over shooter’s legacy continues


WORLD Radio - Legal battle over shooter’s legacy continues

Covenant School families fight to keep shooter manifesto under wraps in the face of appeals citing the Public Records Act

Police outside The Covenant School on March 27 Benjamin Hendren/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: The Covenant School shooter’s manifesto.

Back on March 27, a former Covenant student shot and killed six people at the school. Police responded quickly. Here’s Detective Jeff Mathes:

JEFF MATHES: We proceeded continually toward the sounds of gunfire, and then once we got near the shooter, the shooter was neutralized.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: The next day, Nashville Police Chief John Drake revealed the shooter left behind a manifesto. In a briefing filed on behalf of the parents of the victims along with the school, they asked the judge to keep it private.

NEWS ANCHOR: The stance of the families involved in the filing is that no good can come from the release of the writings, referring to them as “dangerous and harmful writings of a mentally-damaged person.”

But then The National Police Association, the Tennessee Firearms Association, and a news organization called The Tennessean filed or joined lawsuits demanding the Metro Nashville Police Department release the shooter’s statement.

BROWN: Now a judge in Nashville is deciding whether to open the manifesto to the public. During a hearing Last Thursday, the lawyer for the shooter’s family made a surprising announcement. Audio here from WSMV 4.

WSMV4: The shooter's parents want to grant ownership of the writings to the school parents who are suing to block the release of those journals.

BROWN: The documents remain in police custody, so this move doesn’t change anything right away. But it points to a deeper question, what’s at stake for victims’ families, law enforcement, and the rest of the public if the manifesto is unsealed, or not?

REICHARD: Let’s start with the families. A top concern for them is keeping their community safe and preventing the shooter’s writings from inspiring other would-be killers.

BROWN: Pete Blair shares the concerns of Covenant School families. Blair trains law enforcement officers across the country on how to respond to mass shootings.

PETE BLAIR: I think that one of the things we know looking at a lot of these events over a lot of years is that one of the major motivations for attackers is a desire for notoriety, fame, and the need for people to know who they are, and to get their issue out there and to make sure that everybody knows what their issue was. And it's kind of crime prevention 101 that if you know what motivates the crime, if you can reduce what motivates the crime, you reduce the occurrence of the crime.

REICHARD: But he isn’t opposed to releasing it in a limited capacity for researchers and law enforcement agencies to examine.

BLAIR: Yeah well certainly you could have the manifesto released in a very limited distribution for researchers to look at. Like I said, it could be something that's transferred to the FBI and the FBI behavioral sciences unit has done reviews of these attackers before. If they're doing an updated review, and they want to look at this particular case and look at those details. I think that that's fine. Again, I think the point here is not to disappear the person or act like the person didn't exist, but not to allow that person to get a platform to speak from because they did something horrible.

REICHARD: Some think that redacting the documents would be sufficient to prevent the shooter’s plan from inspiring copy-cat killers. But criminal profiler and psychotherapist John Kelly takes a different perspective.

JOHN KELLY: I mean this, this, this was evil, personified. And evil can only really operate in the darkness, under the cover of darkness, where, you know, really can't be seen. And I think, and I've always believed that by exposing evil to the light. In other words, in this case, bringing the manifesto out into the light. Are there warning signs that could be picked up in that manifesto? I will bet there are.

BROWN: Setting aside the contents of the manifesto, a core concern for the public is government transparency. Tennessee has laws about how public records need to be handled. Here’s Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

DEBORAH FISHER: So under the Tennessee public records law, there is a presumption of openness unless something is exempted under the law. And so the judge would have to be able to identify the law that allows redaction of particular material.

BROWN: A 2016 Tennessee Supreme Court decision allows law enforcement to deny public record requests to protect an ongoing criminal prosecution. But lawyers for the groups suing for the manifesto’s release say this isn’t an ongoing investigation because the lone perpetrator is dead.

REICHARD: And Fisher said the judge deciding whether or not to release the manifesto is swimming in unprecedented legal waters.

FISHER: Our interest is if the judge makes a decision to override what is open under the public records law, that creates sort of a new law in Tennessee about what evidence is available. And could be applied in different ways, not just to this shooter's manifesto, but it can be applied in other situations where victims don't want certain evidence released to the public. And so that would create a real change in our system where a victim might have veto power. And then it is likely, I believe, that however it comes out, it probably will be appealed to the Court of Appeals, maybe to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

REICHARD: While a decision in this case will likely take months, families at Covenant school and church continue to grieve.

WORLD contributor George Grant who is also a pastor in the same presbytery says the manifesto won’t provide the answers a grieving community is searching for only the gospel can do that.

GEORGE GRANT: It's excruciatingly painful for those of us who have lost loved ones, or members of our congregations. Because nothing that will be revealed in the forensic delving into the manifesto will bring back the ones that we've lost. So there's no justice to be had, per se. And so, I think many of us are ambivalent about where the police investigation goes from here, and what might or might not be revealed in this manifesto.

BROWN: WORLD Reporter Addie Offereins contributed to this report, and you can read her coverage of the story online at We’ve included a link in today’s transcript.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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