NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nearly three months after a shooter killed six people at her daughter’s school in Nashville, Katherine Heath watches the third-grader lie on her husband’s chest whenever her child has a “sad day.”
After losing multiple classmates, Heath’s daughter is now visibly withdrawn, attending counseling, and learning to live in a world without her best friend.
“She will come to my husband and just lay on his chest. He will say something like ‘It’s been a hard month baby,’” Heath wrote in a recent court filing. “And she’ll just faintly reply `yea.’”
Heath and more than a dozen other parents wrote about life after the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School, offering images of their still-shaken children to compel a judge not to allow the release of the shooter’s writings and other documents. Audrey Hale, a 28-year former Covenant student, indiscriminately opened fire at the private Christian elementary school in March, killing three children and three adults before being fatally shot by police.
That case is on hold after appellate judges ordered a pause in the court proceedings so that they could review whether Covenant parents, the school and the church should be stopped from intervening. The judges agreed to fast-track the appeal.
Parents, school officials and others have expressed outrage at the possibility that they might not be allowed to intervene, arguing that releasing the records could not only spark a copycat attack, but also retraumatize an already hurting and broken community that’s attempting to heal from the shooting.
These stories tucked inside the court documents are the first time many of those closest impacted by the Covenant shooting have spoken out about it — particularly on their children who witnessed the terror first-hand. The details shared by the families are sobering: Children terrified of loud noises, repeatedly waking up screaming, and noticeably void of joy.
For Heath, she says that her other child, a son in third grade, continues to bring up memories about the shooting — at the time, he was outside at recess — as he works with a therapist to process that day.
“Mom, did you know I was wearing these shoes the day of the shooting?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m so proud of you for running to a safe place,” she replied.
For Rachel and Bryan Bolton, it took weeks before their three young boys could sleep in their own beds. But now, once they’re tucked in, any noises — the ice maker, the dryer, or even footsteps — must be avoided or risk sparking severe anxiety.
“The conversations and questions about why this happened were heavier than any conversations we have had,” the Boltons wrote. “Their childlike innocence was taken from them. We attended five funerals in six days.”
Marquita Oglesby says thinking back on past memories has been almost impossible because she always returns to the “savage way our father was murdered.” Oglesby is one of the seven children of 61-year-old Mike Hill, a school custodian who was killed.
“This tragedy has spun our lives into turmoil, loneliness, anger, and anxiety,” Oglesby wrote. “Every monumental moment in the future will now have a sense of emptiness and sadness.”
A separate family talked about how their children count police officers while in a building to ensure there were enough “good guys there to be able to stop the next shooter.”
“If there were any hint of a cover-up or conspiracy resulting in our children’s murders, would not the parents of the dead children cry out the loudest for the release of these documents?” wrote Erin Kinney, the mother of 9-year-old William Kinney who died in the shooting. “And yet, we collectively desire the complete opposite because we know there is nothing to be discovered.”
The Tennessean newspaper, Star News Digital Media Inc., a state senator, a law enforcement nonprofit and a gun-rights organization are advocating for the release in the records. The Associated Press has also requested the records, but is not involved in the lawsuit.
“While it is wrenching to oppose what the grieving parents, school and church want, many of their legal arguments, if adopted by the courts, would turn on its head public access to crime records well beyond this case,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
Yet the records have also become a political lightning rod among the GOP-dominated Legislature, where many Republican lawmakers have declared they won’t consider any possible gun control measures unless the shooter’s writings are released. Most are focusing on the shooter being transgender and touting the need to strengthen school buildings, and largely dismissed concerns over the ease of accessing a gun in Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Lee has also championed the release of the records. The Republican unsuccessfully pushed the General Assembly to pass legislation that would keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others.
After lawmakers refused to do so in the spring, Lee immediately called for a special session in August to again take up his proposal. It’s unclear if the lawsuit over the shooter’s records will still be ongoing.