Nashville community mourns Covenant School shooting victims: 'Shining light.' An 'unflappable spirit.' A 'natural teacher'
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The city is mourning the loss of three children and three adults who were fatally shot Monday at a small, Christian elementary school.
The suspect, identified by police as a 28-year-old former student, entered the private Covenant School through a side door Monday morning and opened fire. Within 14 minutes, a team of five officers followed the sounds of gunfire to a second-floor lobby where they fatally shot the suspect.
All victims were affiliated with the Covenant School, located in the Green Hills neighborhood south of downtown Nashville. The Covenant School has about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade, as well as roughly 50 staff members, according to its website.
The tragic incident is the nation's 89th shooting in a K-12 school this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. Last year, a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, left 21 dead.
"In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting," said Nashville Mayor John Cooper. "My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you."
The community hosted several vigils Monday night where hundreds gathered to grieve and pray for the victims. A citywide vigil was also planned for Wednesday.
Here's what we know so far about the shooting victims.
Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9
Evelyn Dieckhaus was a student at The Covenant School.
Community members gathered at the Woodmont Christian Church on Monday night where senior minister Clay Stauffer shared through tears and a shaky voice, a story of Dieckhaus.
Dieckhaus was a third grader at the Covenant School and her sister, a fifth grader, is a member of the disciples class at the church. Evelyn’s sister cried as she said, “I don’t want to be an only child.”
The Dieckhaus family issued a statement on Tuesday saying their hearts are "completely broken."
"We cannot believe this has happened," the statement read. "Evelyn was a shining light in this world. We appreciate all the love and support but ask for space as we grieve."
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Hallie Scruggs, 9
Hallie Scruggs was a student at The Covenant School.
Hallie was the daughter of Chad Scruggs, who is the lead pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, according to a statement from his former church in Dallas.
“We love the Scruggs family and mourn with them over their precious daughter Hallie," Mark Davis, senior pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, said in a statement. "Together, we trust in the power of Christ to draw near and give us the comfort and hope we desperately need.”
The Park Cities Presbyterian Church held a service on Tuesday to mourn and pray for the victims.
William Kinney, 9
Covenant School student William Kinney was "quick to laugh" with an "unflappable spirit" and a gentle, "unfailingly kind" spirit, Rachael Freitas said on a verified GoFundMe published Tuesday.
Freitas, a friend of the Kinney family, set up the GoFundMe to raise funeral expenses and to buy "the family time to grieve in the way they need to without financial urgency."
"Our friends are walking through the unimaginable...losing their son at the Covenant School shooting," Freitas said. "He loved his sisters, adored his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and was always excited to host friends of every age. Sweet Will knew no strangers, and our hearts our broken for his family as they try to find their way forward."
"Please consider giving to this very, very special family. And please remember them in your prayers," Freitas added.
Katherine Koonce, 60
Dr. Katherine Koonce was the head of school at The Covenant School and was an educator for more than 30 years. Nashville police strongly suggested that Koonce confronted the shooter in a school hallway before she was killed.
"There was a likely confrontation — you could tell by the way she was laying,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said Tuesday.
Friends described Koonce as smart, loving, and a rare female leader within a male-led religious culture.
“If there was any trouble in that school, she would run to it, not from it,” said Koonce's friend Jackie Bailey. “She was trying to protect those kids … That’s just what I believe.”
Before Koonce became the head of Covenant, Anna Caudill, a former art teacher, worked with her for almost a decade at Christ Presbyterian Academy, another Christian school in the area.
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Caudill said Koonce excelled at her day job while also being a parent, pursuing her masters and then her Ph.D., and writing a book.
“She was an absolute dynamo and one of the smartest women I’ll ever know,” Caudill said.
Caudill, who grew up in several male-led Christian denominations, said Koonce was the first woman in such a setting to encourage her to keep learning and pursuing her life goals.
She added that Koonce loved her job at Covenant and she was loved by students and their families.
“She wasn’t Wonder Woman, but I never saw the two in the same place,” Caudill said.
Cynthia Peak, 61
Authorities identified Cynthia Peak as a substitute teacher who was working at The Covenant School.
On Tuesday night, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Peak and his wife, Maria, were close friends and that the two were scheduled to have dinner together after Peak filled in as a substitute teacher at Covenant.
“Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends,” Lee said.
He added that Peak, Koonce, and his wife had once taught at the same school and had been "family friends for decades."
Others described Peak as a loving friend and natural teacher.
Chuck Owen, who grew up with Peak in Leesville, Louisiana, said she was a lifelong friend. Peak was “a sweet person from a sweet family,” Owen told The Associated Press.
Peak was also a devout Christian.
“She told me that she got saved in college and that God’s love changed her life,” Owen said, adding it was appropriate that she was teaching at a Christian school.
Nashville songwriter and singer Natalie Hemby shared a photo of Peak with Hemby's mother on Instagram, calling Peak "a natural teacher."
"Grateful she taught me how to swim. Keep my head above water… which is what we’re all trying to do right now," Hemby said. "And next time you jump in a pool on a beautiful summer day, and find yourself floating and looking at the sky, please think of my friend, Cindy Peak.”
According to Hemby, Peak was married with three children.
Peak's family issued a statement saying their “hearts are broken,” and called Peak “a pillar of the community, and a teacher beloved by all her students.”
“She never wavered in her faith and we know she is wrapped in the arms of Jesus,” the statement said.
Mike Hill, 61
Mike Hill, one of the three adult victims of the shooting, was The Covenant School’s beloved custodian who had been employed at the school for over a decade.
Hill’s family issued a statement saying, “We pray for the Covenant School and are so grateful that Michael was beloved by the faculty and students who filled him with joy for 14 years. He was a father of seven children ... and 14 grandchildren. He liked to cook and spend time with family.”
Pastor Tim Dunavant, of the Hartsville First United Methodist Church, said that he hired Hill to work at Covenant more than a decade ago when he ran the kitchen for the church and school.
Dunavant said he believed Hill would have died protecting the children.
“I don’t know the details yet. But I have a feeling, when it all comes out, Mike’s sacrifice saved lives,” Dunavant said on Facebook. “I have nothing factual to base that upon. I just know what kind of guy he was. And I know he’s the kind of guy that would do that.”
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Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Nashville school shooting victims: Names of students and staff members