An ex-student who gunned down three children and three staff at a private Christian primary school in Nashville had written a manifesto and intended to target multiple locations, police said.
Audrey Hale, 28, carefully planned the attack on The Covenant School and left behind a map charting the course but was shot dead before completing the rampage, the city’s police chief John Drake said.
The police chief said the shooter “identified as transgender”. Police are investigating the possibility that Hale’s identity could have been a factor in the attack.
He said: “There is some theory to that. We’re investigating all the leads.”
Mr Drake identified the suspect as a woman and referred to the assailant by female pronouns in press conferences but officials declined to confirm whether the suspect identified as a man or woman.
The victims were identified as nine-year-old students Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney.
The school’s head teacher, Katherine Koonce, 60; substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61; and a custodian, Mike Hill, 61, were also killed.
Police said Hale was a former student at the Presbyterian school, where fees are as much as $16,500 per year. It was unclear when Hale attended the school.
Mr Drake said investigators believe Hale had “some resentment for having to go to that school” in an interview with Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News.
President Joe Biden called the shooting “sick” and reiterated his call for Congress to pass an assault weapons ban in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart, it’s ripping at the very soul of this nation,” he said.
He said: “It’s heartbreaking, a family’s worst nightmare.”
Residents in Nashville held multiple vigils Monday evening. At Belmont United Methodist Church, mourners held back tears as they sang, knelt in prayer and lit candles.
A contemporary Christian singer, Lauren Daigle, also put together a prayer vigil after cancelling her concert at a venue in the Music City on Monday night.
The shooting in the affluent neighbourhood in Nashville, Tennessee is the latest in an ever-growing list of school shootings in America.
The country has experienced 129 mass shootings already this year, according to data from the non-profit Gun Violence Archive.
The Covenant School, a small school of around 200 children aged 4 to 12, is attached to a church in southwest Nashville.
Amid the chaos on the scene, a familiar ritual played out.
Terrified parents rushed to the school to learn their children’s fate, and a stunned community planned vigils for the victims.
Rachel Dibble, who was at a church acting as a reunification point for families, described the scene as one of “complete shock”.
“People were involuntarily trembling,” said Ms Dibble, whose children attend a different private school in Nashville.
Monday’s tragedy unfolded over roughly 14 minutes. Hale was heavily armed, with two assault-style weapons and a handgun.
The shooter gained entry to the school by shooting through a door on the side of the building and went from the first floor to the second floor firing multiple shots.
Police were called to reports of an active shooter at 10.13am.
By 10.27am, Hale had been shot dead by two officers in a five-member team on the second storey of the school.
The suspect was “prepared for a confrontation” with police and “prepared to do more harm” before being shot dead, Mr Drake said.
Police later discovered maps of the school drawn “in detail”, noting the location of its security cameras and entrance points Hale appeared to have planned to target multiple locations.
“We have a manifesto, we have some writings that we’re going over that pertain to this date, the actual incident,” the police chief said late on Monday.
He said police had spoken with the suspect’s father.
A LinkedIn profile reportedly belonging to the suspect lists Hale as an illustrator who attended the Nossi College of Art and Design in Tennessee.
Steve LaSuer, a teacher at Nossi who taught Hale around 2016, said he had been left aghast by the shooting.
“She just always was a kind of quiet girl but was very serious about her work,” he told the New York Times.