Audrey Hale was the 28-year-old former art student accused of fatally shooting three students and three adult staff members at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 27, 2023, according to Nashville police.
At 9:57 a.m., just minutes before the shootings, Hale’s former middle school basketball teammate received a message from Hale that read, “so basically that post I made on here about you, that was basically a suicide note. I’m planning to die today. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!! You’ll probably hear about me on the news after I die,” according to News Channel 5.
Hale, whose post used the name Aiden, wrote, according to News Channel 5, “This is my last goodbye. I love you. See you again in another life.” The friend responded, “Audrey! You have so much more life to live. I pray God keeps and covers you.” Hale responded, the station reported, “I know but I don’t want to live. I’m so sorry. I’m not trying to upset you or get attention. I just need to die. I wanted to tell you first because you are the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen and known all my life.”
The post continued, according to the outlet, “My family doesn’t know what I’m about to do. One day this will make more sense. I’ve left more than enough evidence behind. But something bad is about to happen.”
In a Tuesday news conference, Police Chief John Drake said police received the first call at 10:13 a.m. and had engaged the suspect by 10:24 a.m. on March 27, 2023. He said police cars had been struck by gunfire, and the suspect was at a higher level.
Audrey Elizabeth Hale, a Nashville resident who once attended the private Christian school, is also dead, police said. Five of the six victims were rushed to a local hospital where they were pronounced dead, while the sixth was pronounced dead at the scene, according to officials.
Officer Rex Engelbert, a four-year Metropolitan Nashville Police Department veteran, and Officer Michael Collazo, a nine-year MNPD veteran, shot and killed Hale, police said in a news release.
Police released video from inside the school. The video shows a person police say is Hale shooting out the school’s glass doors before walking around the school opening doors while wearing a vest, camouflage pants and a red baseball cap and carrying a gun.
A total of seven people, including the shooter, were killed at the school, police said. The victims have been identified by police on Twitter as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9, along with 61-year-old Cynthia Peak, 60-year-old Katherine Koonce and 61-year-old Mike Hill. Koonce was the head of school, Hill was a custodian, and Peak was a substitute teacher.
Drake said Koonce was discovered shot to death in the hallway by herself. The custodian, Hill, was struck when Hale fired rounds through the glass, Drake said. Hale “met the head person in the hallway,” Drake said. The other victims were “spread out in different locations,” the chief said. Students were “randomly targeted,” Drake said.
Read more about the victims here.
Nashville police released body cam video showing the moment officers shot Hale to death. Be forewarned that it is graphic. The video shows officers clearing classrooms and bathrooms before confronting Hale on the second floor.
While police called the suspect a female and a woman and used she/her pronouns during their first press conferences, on LinkedIn, Hale indicated the use of he/him pronouns. Nashville Police Chief John Drake said in a later press conference that Hale did identify as transgender.
Hale’s family and friends have not commented on whether Hale was transgender or had transitioned from female to male or just preferred he/him pronouns. LinkedIn also indicated Hale had used the name Aiden Hale, including links to a now-deleted Instagram page under the name “creative.aiden,” and a Facebook page with the name “Aiden Creates,” along with a now-deleted RedBubble site with the same name. Hale used the name Audrey Hale on a personal website. The word Aiden was scribbled on one of the suspect’s guns in a photo released by police.
Police said they were searching a home connected to Hale in the Nashville area and that a vehicle at the scene helped lead them to identify the suspect.
Drake said in a news conference that the suspect lived in the Nashville area and was a former student at the school. Officials have not said when Hale attended the school or for how long.
According to its website, The Covenant School is a private Presbyterian Christian school for students from preschool to sixth grade. The school’s website quotes Head of School Dr. Katherine Koonce, who was killed in the shooting, as saying, “At the Covenant School, we are about more than simply educating our students — we are participating in the miracle of their development and seeing them transform into who they will be. Impactful teaching methods and programs, daily all-school chapel, and school-wide service-learning are the backdrop for the real work — helping children become who God intends them to be.” The school’s motto is, “Shepherding Hearts, Empowering Minds, Celebrating Childhood.”
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has set up a donation page to help survivors.
Here’s what you need to know about Audrey Hale, The Covenant School shooting suspect:
1. Audrey Hale, Who Police Say Left Behind Detailed Maps of School Surveillance & a ‘Manifesto,’ Was Described as ‘Always an Outcast’
“Audrey and I ran track together in highschool, we had art classes together,” wrote Hope Tavares on Facebook. “She was sweet and funny and shy but always an outcast. This really proves that anyone can be pushed over the edge when they don’t recieve the right mental health care. I haven’t seen Audrey in years and have no idea what they were going through… but this. This is heart wrenching.”
Sean Brashears, who grew up next door to the Hales, told the Daily Beast the family was “our neighbors for basically ever on that street. As long as I can really remember growing up as a kid.”
Hale was a “normal, nice person. Maybe a little quiet,” he told the site.
“We have investigations ongoing now at the residence on Brightwood Avenue and we have made contact with the father that lived at that residence and are putting together more information,” Drake said in a press conference. “We’ve also determined there were maps drawn of the school in detail, surveillance, entry points, etc. We know and believe that entry was gained through shooting through one of the doors is how they actually got into the school.”
The Brightwood Avenue home is owned by Robert Hale and Norma Fort Hale, Audrey Hale’s parents, according to police and property records reviewed by Heavy.
In a written statement, Nashville police wrote that writings “recovered from Hale revealed that her attack was calculated and planned.”
Asked whether Hale was autistic, the police chief said in a Tuesday, March 28, 2023, news conference that he had heard that but could not confirm it.
Asked by a reporter whether the school was targeted for religious reasons, Drake said he “could not confirm any of that” and did not know why Hale targeted Covenant but noted Hale was a student there in the past.
The active shooter call came at 10:13 a.m., police said at a press conference.
Surveillance video released by police shows Hale entered the school by shooting through a side door. There was no school resource officer on site at the school, but the school did have an active shooter protocol, police said.
The Metro Nashville Police Department tweeted at 11 a.m., “An active shooter event has taken place at Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. The shooter was engaged by MNPD and is dead. Student reunification with parents is at Woodmont Baptist Church, 2100 Woodmont Blvd.”
Nashville police tweeted, “Two MNPD officers who entered the building and went to the sounds of gunfire engaged the shooter on the second floor and fatally shot her.”
Officers “entered the first story of the school, began clearing it,” Nashville Police spokesperson Don Aaron said in a noontime news conference. “They heard shots coming from the second level. They immediately went to the gunfire. When the officers got to the second level they saw a shooter, a female, who was firing. The officers engaged her. She was fatally shot by responding police officers.”
Aaron added, “There was a five-member team that was on the second floor at that time. Two individuals from that five-member team opened fire on the shooter. … By 10:27, the shooter was deceased. The officers had engaged the shooter by 10:27 and she was deceased. Again, I said the first call came in at 10:13 this morning.”
The police chief said he had hoped if there was ever such an active shooter situation that “we would not wait, we would immediately go in, and we would immediately engage the person perpetrating this horrible crime.”
“At the scene, scores of parents and onlookers gathered in a parking lot, awaiting updates, as helicopters circled the area, surrounded by a residential and busy businesses district,” according to The Tennessean.
Drake said the shooting was a “targeted attack.” He also said, “We have a manifesto, we have some writings that we are going over that pertain to this date of the actual incident. We have a map drawn out of how this was also going to take place. There is right now a theory that we may be able to talk about later, but it is not confirmed. We’ll put that out as soon as we can.”
Drake told NBC anchor Lester Holt that police believe Hale harbored some “resentment for having to go to that school,” but he did not share additional details. Drake said Hale “targeted random students and persons” in the school.
The manifesto has been turned over to the FBI, Drake told NBC. “It indicates there was going to be shootings at multiple locations and the school was one of them. There was actually a map of the school,” Drake said.
He added, “Our investigation tells us she was a former student at the school. I don’t know what grade she attended, or grades, but we do firmly believe she was a student there.” He said the suspect identifies as transgender and as a woman, but did not provide any other details about Hale’s gender identity and pronouns. Drake said “there is some theory” they are investigating about whether Hale’s gender identity connects to the motive for the shooting, but he said he would provide that at a later date.
Five of the six victims were taken to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, according to WSMV. The sixth victim was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The shooter was also pronounced dead at the school, according to police.
2. Audrey Elizabeth Hale Was an Illustrator & Graphic Designer & an Art Student at Nossi College of Art in Nashville, According to LinkedIn
According to Hale’s LinkedIn profile, which was deleted after the shooting, Hale was an illustrator and graphic designer based in Nashville. Hale was also a student at the Nossi College of Art in Nashville, studying illustration and graphic design. Hale’s LinkedIn indicated a graduation year of 2022. Nossi College has not yet commented about whether Hale graduated from the school.
At Nossi, Hale was honored as the “most improved” student in 2015, according to the Daily Beast. Numerous awards come up on the Google cache of Nossi webpages under Audrey Hale’s name, but the pages either time out or her name no longer appears. A photo of Hale receiving an award is still visible on the school’s website.
Hale worked as a freelance graphic designer, a cat sitter and a grocery shopper for Shipt, according to Hale’s LinkedIn profile. Hale also created a children’s book about a support dog named Millie, according to the now-deleted LinkedIn profile.
On a personal website, Hale used the name Audrey Hale to advertise commercial illustration and graphic design, writing on the about page:
Hello, my name is Audrey Hale. I am a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer who creates logos for businesses. I primarily work with clients that desire a brand personality. I provide illustrations and designs that will help tell a company’s story. My illustrations usually bring a whimsical and light-hearted feel. Aside from art, I enjoy binging on video games, watching movies, and playing sports. There is a child-like part about me that loves to go run to the playground. Animals are my second passion, so I also enjoy spending time with my two cats. You can follow me on Instagram @creative.aiden.
Bill Campbell, a headmaster of The Covenant School from 2004 to 2008, told NBC News that he remembers Hale.
“I’ve looked back in my annuals, and I do remember her as a former student,” Campbell told NBC, adding that he thinks Hale transferred. “She was just one of our young ladies.”
Police have not released any information about a possible motive for the shooting. According to police, surveillance video from the school shows part of the incident and investigators were reviewing that footage “to try to learn exactly how all of this happened.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the investigation, the agency tweeted.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also responded, the agency shared on Twitter.
3. Audrey Hale’s Mother Posted About Gun Control & School Shootings on Her Facebook Page
Before the shootings, Hale was seen leaving the parents’ residence with a red bag, Drake said in the Tuesday news conference, adding that Hale’s mother asked what was in the bag, but didn’t look in the bag because the parents didn’t know Hale “had any weapons.”
Hale’s mother deleted her Facebook page after Hale was publicly identified as the suspect in the shooting. Posts viewed by Heavy show that Norma Fort Hale had posted about gun control and school shootings in the past. Hale’s mother, father and brother could not be reached for comment by Heavy and her family has not issued a public statement. Norma Hale told ABC News, “It is very, very difficult right now. I think I lost my daughter today,” and asked for privacy, the news network reports.
According to her Facebook page, Hale’s mom is “Coordinator at The Village Chapel” and “Former Meals Ministry Coordinator & Volunteer Coordinator at The Village Chapel.” She lives in Nashville. Many of her top posts congratulate her son on his academic career.
In 2019, she wrote, “Found this in a devotional book I loaned to Audrey….❤️ #divinediscovery #perfecttimingofcourse.”
In March 2018, she shared a link to a Sandy Hook Promise petition to “keep guns out of schools,” and wrote in the caption on the post “So important!” In February 2018, Norma Hale, the suspect’s mom, shared another link to a Sandy Hook Promise petition to “make large-capacity gun magazines illegal,” without any additional comment.
Hale’s mother shared a photo of a drawing that said “I [heart] God,” and wrote in the caption, “Found this in a devotional book I loaned to Audrey….#divinediscovery #perfecttimingofcourse.”
“If I had to imagine, Audrey’s parents are probably just as shocked as everybody in the neighborhood is. … It just doesn’t seem real,” the former neighbor, Brashears, told the Daily Beast. “There’s nothing that would have led me to believe that she was capable of such a thing or that she or anybody in that family would have access to, much less ever used, a gun. They just don’t seem like the family that, like, is around guns. They’re not talking about going to a gun range or they’re not going hunting.”
4. Audrey Hale, Who Had No Criminal History, Was Armed With Assault Rifles & May Have Conducted a ‘Threat Assessment’ on Another Location, Police Say
Drake said in the Tuesday news conference that police interviewed the parents of Audrey Hale and determined Hale purchased seven firearms from five different local gun stores legally. “They were legally purchased,” he said. “Three of those weapons were used yesterday during this horrific tragedy that happened.”
The parents felt that Hale had one weapon but sold it and was under a doctor’s care for an emotional disorder, Drake said. Hale’s parents felt that Hale should not own weapons, according to Drake, but they told police they were under the impression when Hale sold the weapon that Hale didn’t have firearms anymore. Hale had been “hiding” the weapons, the chief said. Law enforcement was also not aware of this or even “who this person was,” according to Drake, referring to Hale.
There are “several different writings of other locations,” according to Drake. “There was a drawing of potentially how she would enter and the assaults that would take place.” Drake said he had not read the entire manifesto.
The police spokesman said in a Tuesday news conference that there is no evidence that individuals were specifically targeted in the mass shooting.
According to Drake, another location was a possible target in the Nashville area, but the suspect decided not to attack that location because a “threat assessment” conducted by Hale showed there was “too much security” there in the area. He said he believes Hale was a “lone assailant.”
Drake also said police believe at least two of the guns used in the shooting were purchased legally in the Nashville area. Hale does not have a criminal history “at all,” Drake said. He also said polices are not aware of a history of mental illness but said they are looking at that.
In a later written statement, Nashville police wrote that Hale “was heavily armed with three guns, two of them assault-type weapons, and, as seen in surveillance video, shot her way into the church/school through doors on the side of the building.” They wrote:
The first call to 911 about shots being fired in the building came in at 10:13 a.m. Officers rushed to the campus, made entry and began clearing the building. Shots were heard coming from the second level. It was on the second floor, in a common area, that a team of officers encountered Hale shooting (she had been firing through a window at arriving police cars). Two members of an officer team fired on Hale and fatally wounded her. Those two officers are Officer Rex Engelbert, a four-year MNPD veteran, and Officer Michael Collazo, a nine-year MNPD veteran.
“A search warrant executed at Hale’s Brightwood Avenue home resulted in the seizure of a sawed-off shotgun, a second shotgun, and other evidence,” they wrote.
NBC News reported that police believe Hale fired on arriving officers.
Aaron, the police spokesman, said Hale, “was armed with at least two assault-type rifles and a handgun.” Aaron did not provide any other information about the weapons, other than saying the shooter had two rifles and a pistol. He did not say if the guns were purchased legally or how the suspect obtained them.
Hale “entered the school through a side entrance and traversed her way from the first floor to the second floor, firing multiple shots. We now know that there are three students who were fatally wounded as well as three adults inside the school.” According to Aaron, “an officer had a wound from cut glass. That is the only other injury that I’m aware of.”
Aaron said there were not any armed officers or security at the school. “This is a church that operates a private school,” Aaron told reporters. “There was no Metro Police personnel assigned to that building at any time.” He said the shooting happened in an upper level of the school in an area he described as “kind of a lobby-type area. It was not in a classroom per se.”
Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee tweeted, “I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant, & the @TNDeptofSafety & @TNHighwayPatrol are assisting local law enforcement & first responders at the scene. … As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community.”
Republican U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn tweeted, “Chuck & I are heartbroken to hear about the shooting at Covenant School in Nashville. My office is in contact with federal, state, & local officials, & we stand ready to assist. Thank you to the first responders working on site. Please join us in prayer for those affected.”
Fellow GOP U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty added on Twitter, “Devastated and heartbroken about the tragic news at Covenant School. I’m grateful to law enforcement and first responders for their heroic actions. I am monitoring the situation closely, and my office is in contact with local officials & available to anyone needing assistance.”
“I was literally moved to tears to see this as the kids were being ushered out of the building,” Drake said in the news conference.
5. Audrey Hale’s Neighbor Said the Mass Shooting Was ‘Tragic for Everybody’
A neighbor, Sandy Durham, told the Daily Beast she was a Hale family friend.
“I do know Audrey, I’ve known her since she was a baby. I had just gotten out of the shower when all of this started happening. I didn’t really know anything more than that. Something was going on next door. It’s just tragic for everybody. The sweet children that were hurt, killed, the adults. All of it,” she told the Daily Beast.
According to The Covenant School’s website, it was founded in 2001 “as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church.” The school has an enrollment of between 195 to 210 students in recent years, according to the website. The school has a teaching faculty of 33, its website says. Police said there about 10 or so other staff members in the school on a typical day.
The school’s website adds, “The Covenant School graduates attend the area’s best secondary schools, where they establish themselves as leaders, problem solvers, and collaborative learners. The Covenant School students are sought out and recognized at their next school for their sterling character, integrity, and their desire to learn and serve others.”
Koonce, the head of the school, who was among the victims killed, wrote on the website, “Ours is a unique challenge — to educate twenty-first-century children in a way that prepares them to impact their culture and think in accordance with timeless Truth. Never before have we known more about the skills and experiences students need to be successful and develop skills. But, we must be about more. As we capture our children’s attention and their minds for learning, we also want to capture their hearts in relationships that challenge their thinking and help them learn critical skills. Our graduates attend the finest schools in the Nashville area, where they not only excel academically, but also act with character that comes from authentic faith in Jesus.”
The school’s website adds, “The beauty of a PreSchool-6th school is in its simplicity and innocence. Students are free to be children — they can feel fully and safely known by our faculty and become leaders under their guidance. The Covenant School begins coaching our students to be leaders at an early age. Fifth and sixth grade students practice their leadership skills with younger students as they mentor them under the direction of a trusted adult. Every year, the faculty nurtures relationships and purposefully encourages healthy bonding between students, so they may better understand their role in strengthening the school community.”
According to The Covenant School, “Academically, a PreSchool-6th school allows curriculum to be more specialized, so students have the potential for outstanding academic achievement. When the time comes to make a decision about higher education, the Covenant School works closely with each family — we consider each child as an individual and counsel them throughout the application process, so they can transition to their next school with confidence.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2021, the FBI “designated 61 shootings as active shooter incidents. In these incidents, 103 people were killed and 140 wounded, excluding the shooters. For the period 2017–2021, active shooter incident data reveals an upward trend.”
Only one of those shooters was a female, according to the FBI. Only 3.8% of active shooters were women in another FBI study of incidents from 2000 to 2013.