Head teacher 'headed straight for shooter' during Nashville school massacre
The head teacher gunned down at a Christian primary school in Nashville headed "straight for the shooter" to protect her pupils, it emerged, as vigils were held across the city.
Katherine Koonce, head at The Covenant School, along with three nine-year-old children and two other staff, were slain by Audrey Hale, 28, an ex-pupil of the small, fee-paying Presbyterian school.
Parents and children came to pay their respects outside the school, which sits on a perch behind a long winding driveway in the affluent Green Hills neighbourhood of the city.
Koonce, 60, was in the middle of a Zoom call when the gunshots rang out at the school, according to Nashville city councilman Russ Pulley.
She "immediately ended the call, got up, and headed straight for the shooter,” he told Fox News.
John Drake, Nashville's police chief, said there was evidence of a confrontation between Koonce and Hale because of the “way she was lying in the hallway”.
“If there was any trouble in that school, she would run to it, not from it,” her friend Jackie Bailey said.
Koonce was an active, outdoor-loving teacher with a passion for travel and enjoyed a trip to England for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee last summer.
She described playing croquet, enjoying high tea and attending the Chelsea Flower Show during the trip, followed by "a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen".
"Truly spectacular to be here during the Platinum Jubilee weekend," Koonce told friends on Facebook.
One of the nine-year-old victims of Monday's attack, Evelyn Dieckhaus, was reportedly trying to pull a fire alarm to get help when she was gunned down.
Her family described her as a "shining light" and said that they were "completely broken" by her murder.
Tributes flooded in for the other child victims, William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs, the daughter of Chad Scruggs, senior pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Also killed were Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher, and Mike Hill, 61, a custodian.
The tragedy has left Nashville, a city known for its love of live music, reeling. A candlelit vigil was due to be held in the city's Public Square Park on Wednesday night.
A row of commemorative crosses bearing the victims' names was erected for mourners to leave condolence messages outside the school, a jarring juxtaposition with the signs advertising Easter events and summer camps.
Young children on Wednesday came to lay flowers and other tributes for their former classmates.
Mr Drake, said Hale was believed to harbour some "resentment" towards the school and had written a "manifesto" that suggested more attacks were planned.
Hale identified as transgender and was "under a doctor's care for an emotional disorder" but was able to legally purchase seven firearms, according to Mr Drake.
Three students at a nearby school, twin sisters Emma and Katie Lowe, 16, and Marina Yany, 18, were among those laying flowers outside Covenant School.
They said they now felt "terrified" of being caught in a similar situation. "That could have been one of us. So that's just scary to think about," said Marina.
Neighbours expressed similar shock outside Hale’s home around three miles from the school.
Some described the shooter as a shy young woman who kept largely to herself.