15 minutes of terror: How the Nashville school shooting and police response unfolded

 The killer carried a red bag.

On the morning of March 27, the person who police would later identify as Audrey Hale, 28, was almost out the door on an otherwise sunny day when Hale's mother asked what was in the bag.

Hale's parents, Norma and Ronald, had to be concerned. Hale had been under a doctor's care for what police would later call an undisclosed "emotional disorder."

The Hales would later tell police they had no idea seven guns were hidden in the house or that three of them would make it to the car that morning. They told police they didn't believe Hale should have access to a gun.

Ignoring the question about the bag, Hale was off to kill school children.

Hale walked out of the brick, Tudor-style house in Nashville's Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood and put the red bag in the car.

Hale didn't plan on coming home.

Photographs of Mike Hill, left, Evelyn Dieckhaus, Katherine Koonce, William Kinney, Hallie Scruggs, and Cynthia Peak were placed at a makeshift  memorial by the entrance to the Covenant School Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

Armed for destruction

Legally, and without the Hale family's knowledge, according to police, Hale had purchased what appears to be a semi-automatic KelTec SUB2000 carbine rifle, which was engineered to fold in half so it can easily be concealed.

It weighs four pounds and costs between $600 and $900 depending on modifications. It can handle both 15- and 33-round magazines.

The weapon is currently under a recall because firing it can cause the barrel to rupture and, according to the manufacturer, "could result in serious personal injury. The safety of our customers is our primary concern."

The safety of others was not mentioned.

Metro Nashville Police and FBI search and investigate a house in the 3000 block of Brightwood Ave. following a mass shooting at Covenant School, where three children and three adults were killed Covenant School Monday, March 27, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn. The shooter was killed by police on the scene.

The weapon was designed to fit inside a backpack or a shoulder bag.

The KelTec SUB2000, however, was not enough firepower for Hale.

Hale also put a Lead Star Arms Grunt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a Smith&Wesson M&P 9mm Shield EZ handgun in the car. All seven weapons had been legally purchased at five undisclosed Nashville-area stores.

The AR-15 had "Aiden" painted in white on its stock.

Hale had been using the name "Aiden" and he/him pronouns on social media in recent months, and police described Hale as transgender.

Arriving at Covenant

It is unclear which route Hale took Monday morning. The most direct way would take Hale just less than 10 minutes to drive 2.9 miles into Green Hills to The Covenant School. Hale had attended the school as a child.

Hale's rolling arsenal, a four-door, gray Honda Fit with a yellow "Thrasher" sticker on the rear window traveled from Brightwood Drive. There were several other closer targets − Hillsboro High School, Lipscomb University, the Green Hills Mall − but Hale kept driving. Police said Hale may have considered other targets including a mall and school but have not yet disclosed locations.

Active shooter Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, drove this Honda Fit to the Covenant Church/school campus this morning and parked. MNPD detectives searched it and found additional material written by Hale.

Hale entered the Covenant Presbyterian Church parking lot at 9:53 a.m.

The Convenant School is attached to the church.

Hale slowly drove through the winding parking area, past the steepled, stone sanctuary, past the parking spaces designated for senior citizens, past the children playing on the swings.

The gray Honda parked in the rear part of the lot, leaving a bit of a walk to the school's front doors.

From The Tennessean:15 minutes of terror: How Covenant School shooting and Nashville police response unfolded

A regular Monday

At 9:53 a.m., The Covenant School was in the midst of a regular Monday.

A vacuum cleaner sat idly inside the front door. A long row of cubbies in the front hallway were filled with jackets and backpacks. Children's watercolor paintings on blue construction paper hung on the wall.

A decorative blue and white ringed life preserver hung on the wall outside Mrs. Chance's classroom.

Robin Wolfeden prays in front of a makeshift  memorial at the entrance to the Covenant School Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Three children and three school staff members were killed by a former student in Monday’s mass shooting.

Many of the classrooms had inspirational words painted outside their doors. "Hope" in cursive. "Gratitude" in block letters.

Down the hall, children's pictures were taped next to a rainbow leading to a picture of a pot of gold. Letters spelling "MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD" were taped to the wall.

It would be the last normal half hour of all their lives.

'I'm planning to die today'

The killer paused in the parking lot and pulled out a phone.

Over the next 16 minutes, Hale sent at least one set of Instagram messages. The recipient was Averianna Patton, who was a middle school basketball teammate of Hale.

The second sentence of Hale's message: "I'm planning to die today."

"THIS IS NOT A JOKE!!! You’ll probably hear about me on the news after I die.”

“This is my last goodbye. I love you … See you again in another life.”

Hale signed the message: “Audrey (Aiden)."

The time stamp was 9:57 a.m.

Over the next 13 minutes, Hale exchanged more messages with Patton and strapped up.  

Patton responded: "Audrey! You have so much more life to live. I pray God keeps and covers you."

Hale sent four consecutive responses.

Hale's last words: "Forgive me."

Hale grabbed the two rifles, strapping one of them diagonally chest to waist. Hale carried enough ammunition to destroy any innocence Nashville had left. 

Second floor standoff

The killer appeared to set up for a standoff in the second floor sitting area at the top of the stairs in front of the gothic arched window.

The wailing alarm had now been joined by a shrill, bleating second alarm sound.

As officers responded to the Covenant campus, Hale fired on arriving police vehicles from a 2nd story window.

There was furniture in the room, and a bookcase, but Hale didn't use any of them for cover.

As the light poured in from the huge window, Hale stood exposed.

As the sound of police running and yelling instructions rang out, Hale fired a shot.

'Keep pushing'

Now Engelbert knew where Hale was.

"It's upstairs," he said. "Sounds like it's upstairs." 

The police flew toward the sound of the gunfire.

Second floor, top of the stairs, down a hallway, right turn.

Engelbert ran down a hallway with cutout penguins on the wall.

Officer Michael Collazo, a nine-year police veteran, also heard the shot and ran up the stairs. He was behind Engelbret, his service weapon pointed in front of him.

"Go. Stairs. Go. Stairs," Collazo said.

Collazo and two other officers ran down the hallway. They saw the body of a victim on the floor.

Daijah Fuqua, niece of Covenant School shooting victim Mike Hill, cries during the Nashville Remembers candlelight vigil to mourn and honor the victims of The Covenant School mass shooting at Public Square Park Wednesday, March 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn.

"We got one down," an officer said.

"Keep pushing," Collazo said.

They ran past.

As Engelbert got closer, Hale was firing wildly. No officer was struck in the shooting.

There was a pause.

It was 10:25 a.m.

That's when Rex Engelbert aimed his AR-15 and opened fire.

Three quick shots.

'Suspect down'

The killer dropped to the floor.

Hale's weapon fell to the ground.


Hale moved.

Collazo stepped in front of the other officers and fired three shots.

As he ran toward Hale, Collazo continued to yell, "STOP MOVING."

Collazo stood over Hale's lifeless body.

"Suspect down," he said.

Changed forever

The killer was alive inside The Covenant School for 15 minutes.

Less than four minutes passed from the time Engelbert cocked his gun, until Hale was dead.

Horrible memories, however, will last forever.

The school will now always be associated with the names of the victims: students Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9, Hallie Scruggs, 9, and William Kinney 9, as well as head of school Katherine Koonce, 60, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, and custodian Mike Hill, 61.

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