Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The White House led reactions in a shocked America with a call for tightening gun control in the US after a 28-year-old opened fire at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, killing six, including three children.
“While you’ve been in this room, I don’t know whether you’ve been on your phones, but we just learned about another shooting in Tennessee – a school shooting – and I am truly without words,” first lady Jill Biden said at an event in Washington as reports of the shooting at the Covenant School began circulating.
“Our children deserve better. And we stand, all of us, we stand with Nashville in prayer,” she added.
President Joe Biden addressed the mass school shooting soon after, and reiterated his calls to Congress to take legislative action.
Biden called the shooting “heartbreaking, a family’s worst nightmare”. He said more needs to be done to stop gun violence.
“It’s ripping our communities apart,” he said, and called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, saying we “need to do more to protect our schools”.
“It’s about time we began to make some more progress,” he added.
Earlier this month Biden announced a new slate of executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence and the proliferation of guns sold to prohibited people. The measures were aimed at stiffening background checks, promoting more secure firearms storage and ensuring law enforcement agencies get more out of a bipartisan gun control law enacted last summer. But his actions did not change government policy, but instead directed federal agencies to ensure compliance with existing laws and procedures.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the Nashville school shooting “devastating”, “heartbreaking”, and “unacceptable”.
“How many more children have to be murdered before Republicans in Congress will step up and act to pass the assault weapons ban, to close loopholes in our background check system or to require the safe storage of guns?” she added.
“Our children should be able to go to school feeling safe, feeling protected. People should be able to go to the grocery stores feeling safe,” Jean-Pierre said.
Nashville police said the shooter – later named as Audrey Elizabeth Hale – killed three children and three adults before being shot dead by police. Metro Nashville police department chief, John Drake, said the shooter had been a student at the school.
According to reports, the shooter entered the school through a side door at 10.13am and began firing on the second floor using two assault-style rifles and a handgun. By 10.27am, they had been shot dead.
The private school with 200 students opened in 2011. It is not believed to have armed guards.
Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee, said he was “closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant” and asked people to “please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community”.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said his “heart goes out to the families of the victims”.
“In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting,” he added.
As parents rushed to collect their children from a nearby church, a police officer offered condolences. “I know this is probably the worst day of everyone’s lives,” the officer was heard to tell parents. “I can’t tell you how sympathetic we are.”