911 calls from Nashville school shooting are released

Mar 31, 2023, 5:00 AM | Updated: Apr 1, 2023, 4:41 pm

Pictures of the victims killed in a mass shooting at The Covenant School are fixed to a memorial ne...

Pictures of the victims killed in a mass shooting at The Covenant School are fixed to a memorial near the school. Photo credit: Seth Herald/Getty Images

 (CNN) — Some of the 911 calls from The Covenant School shooting have been released by the City of Nashville, capturing some of the tense moments as the carnage played out.

One woman who says she is in the building as the shooting is happening tells the operator, “I hear another shot.” The operator responds, “You do?” The woman then says, “I’m hearing another.”

When the 911 operator asks if they’re in a safe place, a woman is heard saying they’re located upstairs by the art room hallway. The muted voice of a child can be heard in the background.

The operator then assures her the police are coming but to “just try to stay quiet.”

Another tape reveals that Chad Scruggs — Covenant’s senior pastor and the father of one of the victims — called emergency services himself after learning about the shooting.

“Are you inside?” the dispatcher asks after Scruggs says there’s an active shooter. “No. I’m the lead pastor. I’m going that way now,” Scruggs replies, adding that he was “getting calls from inside.”

There’s no indication on the call that Scruggs is aware his daughter was shot.

“You may not want to go there without police, sir. You may need to go somewhere else and wait for police,” the dispatcher tells him.

In many of the 911 calls, the speakers use hushed tones and whispers, saying they are barricaded in rooms and that they’ve heard more than a dozen shots. Their quiet voices are full of fear and confusion in those early moments of the massacre.

A teacher tells 911 she and the 17 children in her room are uninjured. The dispatcher tells her to be prepared to fight the shooter if needed. “Stay where you’re at, and don’t come out until the police come unless you need to flee or fight, OK?” they say.

A man says he’s in his office with the door locked and has heard about 20 shots.

“I’m in the office alone. I have the lights off. No one else is in the office. I saw one person run out… And I heard the fire alarms going off. Oh my God. I’m afraid I’m going to die.”

Another female caller describes herself as a substitute teacher and desperately whispers: “Please send someone soon.”

Shooter’s social media posts

The release of the calls comes as the public continues to learn more about the shooter, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, including concerning messages with a childhood friend prior to the attack and her frequent grief-filled posts on social media. Still, why the attacker decided to storm the school and kill three children and three adults remains unclear.

The death toll could have been worse if not for the quick-thinking actions of teachers who locked down classrooms, a former police officer who provided active shooter training at the school told CNN.

Also on Thursday, a crowd of protesters gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol to call for gun control legislation, chanting “Do your job,” “Gun control now” and “We want change.”

With six victims, Monday’s attack was the deadliest US school shooting since last May’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas, in which 21 people were killed.

Three of the six victims were 9-year-old students Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs, and the adults were identified as Katherine Koonce, the 60-year-old head of the school; Cynthia Peak, a 61-year-old substitute teacher; and Mike Hill, a 61-year-old custodian, police said.

The funeral services for Evelyn will be held on Friday. The services for Hallie and Peak will be on Saturday, and William’s on Sunday.

The services for Hill and Koonce will be held next week.

Teachers’ response prevented further death, expert says

Inside The Covenant School, the shooter fired multiple rounds into several classrooms but didn’t hit any students inside the classrooms, “because the teachers knew exactly what to do, how to fortify their doors and where to place their children in those rooms,” security consultant Brink Fidler told CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront.

“Their ability to execute literally flawlessly under that amount of stress while somebody trying to murder them and their children, that is what made the difference here,” he said.

“These teachers are the reason those kids went home to their families,” he added.

Fidler spoke to CNN after he did a walk-through of the school with Nashville officials Wednesday. All of the victims had been in an open area or hallway, he said.

“Several were able to evacuate safely. The ones that couldn’t do that safely did exactly what they were taught and trained to do,” he said.

While the shooter — a former student — targeted the school, it’s believed the victims were fired upon at random, police have said.

Koonce had been adamant about training school staff on how to respond during an active shooter situation, Fidler said.

“She understood the severity of the topic and the severity of the teachers needing to have the knowledge of what to do in that situation,” he said.

A Nashville city council member also said a witness told him Koonce, the head of The Covenant School, spent her last moments trying to protect the children in her care.

“The witness said Katherine Koonce was on a Zoom call, heard the shots and abruptly ended the Zoom call and left the office. The assumption from there is that she headed towards the shooter,” Councilman Russ Pulley said. He did not identify the witness.

Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake could not confirm how Koonce died but said, “I do know she was in the hallway by herself. There was a confrontation, I’m sure. You can tell the way she is lying in the hallway.”

Drake further praised the responding officers who rushed into the school and fatally shot the attacker.

“We had heroic officers that went in harm’s way to stop this and we could have been talking about more tragedy than what we are,” Drake told CNN on Wednesday.

The law enforcement response in Nashville stands in contrast with the response in Uvalde, where there was a delay of more than an hour before authorities confronted and killed the gunman.

Shooter’s friend called police to report concerning messages

Averianna Patton, a Nashville radio host and Hale’s childhood friend, told CNN on Tuesday she had received concerning Instagram messages from Hale minutes before the shooting saying “I’m planning to die today” and that it would be on the news.

Audio of Patton’s subsequent call to law enforcement has now been released by the Metro Nashville Emergency Communication Center.

“I received a very, very weird message from a friend on Instagram. I think it was like a suicidal thing,” Patton told the dispatcher in a recording that began at 10:21 a.m. — minutes after the attack had already begun.

Patton told the dispatcher she had called the suicide hotline, which referred her to the sheriff’s department, which then referred her to the department’s non-emergency line. In that phone call, Patton told the dispatcher she had been on hold for a while.

“The sheriff’s department told me to call you guys, so I’m just trying to see, can anybody — I don’t want it on my conscience — if somebody can go check on her,” she said.

Patton told the dispatcher she only had Hale’s Instagram name but did not have a number or address.

“OK, unfortunately we can’t send anything out without an address,” the dispatcher said. The dispatcher said an officer would be sent to her so that she could show the officer the information.

The concerning message and series of phone calls adds further details to the minute-by-minute timeline of the shooting.

Hale’s messages were sent at 9:57 a.m., and police say the first 911 call from the school about an active shooter was made at 10:13 a.m. Officers arrived on scene at 10:24 a.m. and fatally shot the attacker three minutes later, police said.

Patton told CNN affiliate WTVF that she called the sheriff department’s non-emergency line at 10:14 a.m. and was on hold for nearly seven minutes. She ultimately spoke with a law enforcement officer at about 3:30 p.m. that afternoon.

Asked about the messages, Drake told CNN, “If their timeline was accurate, the actual call came in after the officer had already arrived on the scene. So, it plays no bearing on that.”

“The moment we got the call, we responded immediately to the scene. Officers pulled up, were taking gunfire, pulled the gun out, went inside, did not wait,” Drake said.

Shooter brought stuffed animals to art school class, former classmate says

A former art school classmate of the shooter told CNN that Hale posted often on social media over the past year about the death of Sydney Sims.

“(Hale) posted so often to the point I started noticing it. It must have been their best friend,” said the classmate, who asked only to be identified by his first name Cody.

In a social media post last year, Hale wanted to go by the name Aiden, Cody said. Police have referred to Hale as a “female shooter,” and later said Hale was transgender and used male pronouns on a social media profile.

Cody attended the Nossi College of Art in Nashville with Hale from 2015-2019 and said they were both commercial illustration majors.

Even though they were the same age, Cody thought Hale was much younger because Hale “dressed like a little kid” and brought stuffed animals to class. Hale’s laptop, Cody recalled, “was covered in stickers that were like elementary school stuff.”

Cody thought Hale had “a weird child-like obsession with staying a child.” He told CNN that Hale was reserved and serious about artwork, which teachers lauded.

“The art couldn’t be more childish, family-friendly, G-rated, to a nauseating degree almost,” and filled with “very garish, bright colors,” Cody said.

The comments are altogether similar to those from Maria Colomy, a Nossi instructor, who described Hale’s work as “whimsical and childlike” and said Hale posted often about a teammate’s death. “From what I saw on (Hale’s) social, (Hale) was suffering,” Colomy said.

Shooting spurs vigil and gun control protests

The six Nashville victims were honored at a citywide vigil Wednesday night attended by first lady Jill Biden, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow and a bevy of local residents and officials.

In the wake of the shooting, President Joe Biden and other Democratic politicians pushed for lawmakers to enact stricter limits on guns and assault-style rifles, but Republicans showed little interest in pursuing the issue.

On Thursday, protesters gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol to advocate for gun control legislation. Some of the signs at the event read, “Protect kids, not guns!” and “We just want to live through high school.”

Andrew Maraniss, who has two children, ages 9 and 12, was one of those who participated.

“I felt like there was nothing more important to do this morning as a parent and as a citizen than to make my voice heard and to try to do my part to protect children,” he told CNN. “As parents, I think we need to act as if any child killed by gun violence is our own child and act accordingly.”

“It was important to show up at the Capitol and let our Republican supermajority in Tennessee know that their cowardice does not go unnoticed and that their loyalty to the NRA over children will not stand,” he said.

“I was really proud of the teenagers and college students who showed up today. This is a younger generation that will not tolerate what certain adults have allowed to happen,” he said.

Cate Calvert, 9, was at the protest with her younger sibling, mother and grandmother.

“I came here so I can protect my friends,” Cate said.

“I came here to protect my grandkids,” said Nancy Manning, her grandmother.

Dion Green, who survived the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, in 2019 and witnessed the deaths of his father and aunt, traveled to the Capitol to join the protest.

“My father was shot five times and not one of the bullets touched me. So I owe it to them and to all of the others to be here to show hope in places where there’s just hopeless,” Green said.

Green said he travels across the county to where other shootings have occurred to shine light in the dark moments.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about my father no more, it’s about saving lives,” he said. “It’s my passion. It’s therapeutic for me to be around other survivors.”

FBI and police combing through shooter’s writings and maps

Hale had written extensively about the shooting in a notebook and made detailed maps of The Covenant School, which the shooter attended as a child, according to the police chief.

The FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and police have been combing through the writings, Drake said. The documents will be released after investigators are done examining them, according to Nashville City Council member Robert Swope.

Authorities have called the attack “calculated,” with Drake saying Wednesday the maps “did have a display of entry into the school, a route that would be taken for whatever was going to be carried out.”

The shooter is also believed to have had weapons training and had arrived at the school heavily armed and prepared for a confrontation with law enforcement, police have said.

But as details of the pre-planning are uncovered, it’s still unclear what motivated the attack. Police have met with school officials and found no indication Hale had any problems while attending The Covenant, Drake said.

Hale had been under care for an emotional disorder and legally bought seven guns in the past three years, but they were kept hidden from Hale’s parents, Drake said. Three of the weapons, including an AR-15 rifle, were used in the attack Monday.

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911 calls from Nashville school shooting are released