The mayor of Nashville, Tennessee, has called for an investigation into the unauthorized publication of the Covenant School shooter’s writing, which an advocate for the victims said is allowing the killer to “terrorize us with words from the grave.”
Mayor Freddie O’Connell said he has directed the city’s law director, Wally Dietz, to determine how images of the late shooter’s journal entries were released. A judge had ordered them sealed amid an ongoing legal battle with the private school and families affected by the March attack, which left three 9-year-olds and three adults dead.
“I am deeply concerned with the safety, security, and well-being of the Covenant families and all Nashvillians who are grieving,” O’Connell said in a statement Monday. The investigation may involve local, state and federal authorities, the mayor added.
Two women hug near a memorial at the entrance to The Covenant School, in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 29. The Tennessee Court of Appeals has heard arguments on whether Tennessee law gives the parents of school shooting victims the right to have a say over which police records are released to the public.
The investigation concerns three photos of handwritten journal entries that a conservative podcast host posted online on Monday. A gloved hand appears to be holding the notebook in one of the photos, which shows a police cruiser in the background.
Metro Police Chief John Drake confirmed in a statement that the writings were the late shooter’s, who was previously identified as a former student at the school. Drake said he’s “greatly disturbed” by their unauthorized release.
“This police department is extremely serious about the investigation to identify the person responsible. This action showed a total disregard for Covenant families, as well as the court system, which has control of the shooter’s journals at the present time due to litigation filed earlier this year,” Drake said on Monday.
A Covenant parent tore into the person responsible for leaking the shooter’s writing, calling the leaker “a viper” on Monday and sharing suspicions that they’re a member of the law enforcement community.
“You’ve released evidence in our most vulnerable moment. You’ve now allowed this [shooter] to terrorize our family with bullets and to terrorize us with words from the grave. How could you? What kind of a person does this?” said Brent Leatherwood, whose three children attend the school but were not harmed in the attack.
Leatherwood, speaking at a press conference on behalf of fellow parents and victims of the shooting, said that the documents’ release could inspire future violence. He argued that nothing was gained in exchange for that new threat.
“Have we learned anything we didn’t already know? Did we not already know that this was a deeply disturbed individual who was detached from reality? What more evidence was needed?” he asked, adding that it was already clear that the shooter was “deeply and emotionally distressed and in need of help. That’s not been added to by the images today.”
Several groups, including local news outlets, filed a lawsuit demanding the release of the records and any other evidence related to the shooting that has been withheld. Shortly afterward, however, the school and Covenant families intervened to prevent the release, resulting in an ongoing legal battle.
The case is currently pending in the Davidson County Chancery Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals, said Drake.
“We are not at liberty to release the journals until the courts rule. Our police department looks forward to the ultimate resolution of the litigation concerning the journals,” he added.
The Tennessean, one of the outlets that had demanded the records’ release, said it had no plans to publish the writings verbatim and only intended to center coverage on public policy, the victims and the community. It did not publish any content from the documents released online on Monday.