Three children and three adults have been killed after a woman opened fire at a primary school in Nashville, Tennessee, local officials said, in the latest instance of deadly gun violence in the United States.
The shooting happened on Monday morning at The Covenant School, a private Presbyterian school with a student body of about 200 that teaches preschool through sixth grade.
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The three children, all nine years old, had gunshot wounds, officials said, and they were pronounced dead upon arrival at the Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The adult victims were all over 60, according to authorities. Their roles at the school were not immediately clear.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said on Monday afternoon that the suspect, a 28-year-old Nashville resident they identified as Audrey Hale, had been fatally shot by officers after they entered the building.
Police said Hale had an assault rifle, handgun, as well as a pistol and entered the building by shooting through a door. Hale also had detailed maps of the schools and left behind a “manifesto”, police said.
Police added Hale was believed to be a former student at the school. Police chief John Drake also told reporters that Hale “does identify as transgender”.
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 27, 2023
The attack took place at a “lobby type area” in the school and not in a classroom, a police official said.
Students could be seen being walked to safety after the incident, holding hands as they left school surrounded by police cars. They were brought to a nearby church to be reunited with their parents.
Helicopter footage from the WTVF local news station showed police officers looking around a wooded area between the campus and a nearby road.
Jozen Reodica said she heard police sirens and fire trucks blaring from outside her office building nearby. As the building was placed under lockdown, she took out her phone and recorded the chaos.
“I thought I would just see this on TV,” she told The Associated Press news agency. “And right now, it’s real.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper expressed sympathy for the victims, writing on social media that his city “joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting”.
Attacks at US schools have become relatively common. A massacre last year at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 young students and two teachers dead. And in February, a gunman killed three students and wounded five others in an attack on the campus of Michigan State University in the city of East Lansing.
As of Monday, there had been at least 128 mass shootings in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a group that defines a mass shooting as an incident involving four or more victims.
Since 2020, the number of mass shootings every year in the US has hovered above 600, with 646 recorded in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive database.
Meanwhile, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report recorded a 61-percent jump in so-called “active shooter” incidents in 2021 compared with the previous year.
The department defines an “active shooter” as someone engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a public space in a seemingly random fashion.
About one in five “active shooter” incidents in 2021 were also mass killings.
UPDATE: 3 students & 3 adult staff members from Covenant School were fatally shot by the active shooter, who has now been identified as a 28-year-old Nashville woman.
— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) March 27, 2023
‘We need to do something’
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan said that, despite the prevalence of mass shootings in the US, federal gun reform has remained a politically fraught issue.
“Unless and until there is political will from both Republicans and Democrats, it’s going to be very difficult to get any sort of comprehensive, Congressional action that could prevent these sorts of shootings,” she said.
Amid the political deadlock, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has sought to address the high rate of gun violence through a raft of executive orders.
Last year, he also signed the first major federal gun control legislation passed in the US in decades, although advocates said the bill made only incremental gains.
Following Monday’s attack in Nashville, the White House again called for greater federal reforms, including an assault weapons ban, an increase to the minimum age necessary to buy guns, and greater standards for background checks.
“It’s just sick,” Biden told reporters.
“It’s ripping our communities apart,” he continued, “ripping at the very soul of the nation.”