Reporter’s Notebook: Mourning in Nashville | WORLD
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Reporter’s Notebook: Mourning in Nashville

A community struggles to make sense of another school shooting

A memorial at the main entrance to Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Lauren Canterberry

Reporter’s Notebook: Mourning in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Covenant Presbyterian Church sits atop a hill overlooking the quiet Green Hills neighborhood. The building, surrounded by trees, is barely visible from the street. The church is one of nearly a dozen along Hillsboro Pike, a main road that runs to the heart of Nashville. Founded in 1990, the church since 2001 has been home to The Covenant School, where students in preschool through sixth grade attend classes.

But the campus entrance has been blocked since Monday,  when a former student identified by police as 28-year-old Audrey Elizabeth Hale, opened fire inside the building, killing three 9-year-old children and three adult staff members. The school’s headmaster, 60-year-old Katherine Koonce, was slain along with substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, and custodian Mike Hill, 61. Police identified the three students who lost their lives as Hallie Scruggs, daughter of Covenant’s lead pastor; Evelyn Dieckhaus; and William Kinney.

On Tuesday, dozens of media crews lined the street across from Covenant’s main entrance, watching mourners cross the road to lay flowers, stuffed animals, and notes on either side of the drive leading to the church. Six white crosses now anchor the memorial, each bearing a pale blue heart inscribed with the name of one of the victims. Mourners used a black marker attached to each cross to write prayers and messages of hope.

Deanna Porterfield lives near the campus and came to the entrance to pray and grieve.

“A lot of people put their kids in this school because it’s such a safe area,” she said. “So when we got the call [Monday] that we needed to take cover because there was an active shooter we just couldn’t make sense [of it].”

At least 10 schools are located within 5 miles of Covenant, and several of them are also Christian. Students from St. Paul Christian Academy on Tuesday walked across the street to place flowers, ribbons, and signs along the street leading to Covenant.

Though Nashville is a city of more than 1.2 million people, resident Katrina Cooper said the tragedy’s ripple effects have spread throughout the community.

“Everyone in Nashville is separated by two degrees,” she said. “If you don’t know someone who is directly affected, you know someone who knows someone who was directly affected by this.”

Cooper and her husband attend Woodmont Christian Church, just down the street from Covenant. The family of one of the victims attends Woodmont, and Cooper joined a prayer vigil hosted there on Monday night.

“It was beautiful but it was awful … it’s healing and sad all at the same time,” she said. Several other local congregations have hosted gatherings in the wake of the tragedy. A citywide memorial is planned for Wednesday evening.

Cooper said most in her community expressed gratitude for how quickly law enforcement entered the school and stopped further bloodshed. Within 14 minutes of the shooter entering the building, police arrived and fatally shot her in a second-floor room. She had been firing on police vehicles as they arrived.

While many have called for stricter gun control regulations in response to the shooting, Porterfield believes mental health issues must also be addressed.

Hale was under a doctor’s care for an “emotional disorder,” police said, and her parents, with whom she lived, did not know that she owned the firearms used in the attack. On social media, Hale used male pronouns and went by a male name.

“I’m confused by this individual that she would want to take not only her life but the lives of others with her,” Porterfield said. “[This] just makes me want to be on my knees more, pray for my fellow mankind. Life is too important and too valuable to every human being. And I just want others to see their value.”

As the community continues to mourn, Cooper said she hopes people will support victims’ families with fundraisers, or by contributing meals to people affected by the tragedy.

Covenant Presbyterian Church and The Covenant School have so far declined to comment and have not said when the school or church will reopen.

During Lent, the congregation had been studying Jesus’ suffering, and the church had planned to host a large Easter service to celebrate His resurrection.

Lauren Canterberry

Lauren Canterberry is a reporter for WORLD. She graduated from the World Journalism Institute and the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism, both in 2017. She worked as a local reporter in Texas and now lives in Georgia with her husband.

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