Residents of Nashville are reeling after a mass shooting Monday morning at The Covenant School, a Presbyterian institution on the campus of a church in the city’s Green Hills neighborhood. The shooter, 28-year-old former student Audrey Hale, killed six before being fatally wounded by local police on the scene.
Reactions have poured in from around the country, including those grieving the victims and others who are calling for gun reform after the 129th mass shooting of the year.
“America has become a killing field, while elected officials take blood money from the NRA… And they call themselves pro-life,” wrote Fr Michael Pfleger, a prominent gun control activist and pastor of one of the nation’s largest Black Catholic parishes, St. Sabina Church in Chicago.
Pfleger, posting on social media, added a graphic noting that the mass shootings so far surpass the number at similar dates in 2022 and 2021. According to the data, the nation did not see 100 mass shootings until May in the years between 2018 and 2020.
Nashville authorities have announced that Hale’s victims at Covenant included three children—one of them the daughter of Covenant Presbyterian Church’s pastor—and three adults at the 22-year-old school. Head of School Dr. Katherine Koonce was among them, as was an African-American custodian, Mike Hill.
Police say no motive has been determined for the shooting, though a search of the shooter’s home revealed a manifesto, school map, and additional firearms. Hale also sent text messages to a friend before the shooting announcing that he planned to end his life.
Spencer Mullins, a local resident who attends Christ the King Catholic Church, a parish near the site of the shooting, said the tragic incident shows that more action is needed from the government and the Church hierarchy alike.
“There’s a time for prayers and a time for action. I wish my diocese viewed gun violence with the same intensity as Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller and others, because in Tennessee there’s a huge gun problem,” he told BCM.
“Please pray for the victims and that our elected leaders will have a change of heart.”
Shortly after the shooting, media reports honed in on recent pro-gun messaging from Nashville-based congressman Andy Ogles, a Republican who has received campaign donations from the National Rifle Association. In a statement on Monday, he said he was “devastated” by the tragic and “senseless” shooting.
U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York, the only Black Catholic serving in Congress, reacted to the shooting with a renewed call for gun control, a cause he has supported throughout his time in Washington. This has included a proposed ban on assault rifles, like the one used by Hale in the shooting.
“We cannot normalize this senseless gun violence. When will enough be enough?? We need comprehensive gun legislation now,” he wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon.
“There have been over 120 mass shootings in America in 2023. That's more shootings than days… No one and nowhere is safe from gun violence in America.”
Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville has called for prayers in the wake of the shooting, also celebrating a livestreamed evening Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Monday to commemorate the victims.
“My heart breaks with the news of the school shooting at The Covenant School this morning,” he wrote in a statement.
“Let us pray for the victims, their families, and the Covenant Presbyterian community.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.