Nashville bishop: Praying for shooting victims as ‘family of faith’ is like ‘an embrace’ for community

Police officers arrive at the Covenant School on the grounds of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., after reports of a shooting at the school March 27, 2023. At least six were killed -- three adults and three children -- police reported. (OSV News photo/Metropolitan Nashville Police Department handout via Reuters)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSV News) – Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding celebrated the 5:30 p.m. Mass March 27 at the Cathedral of the Incarnation to pray for the victims of the school shooting that morning at The Covenant School in the city’s Green Hills neighborhood.

“On this day of such tragedy, we come here to gather as a people who live in hope, in faith and in love,” Bishop Spalding said at the beginning of Mass. “So, as we gather today, mindful of what our faith teaches us, that darkness, sin, death does not have the final word, but light, love, and the victory of Jesus Christ does.”

The shooter, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, killed six individuals, including three children. Metro Nashville Police have identified the three child victims as 9-year-olds Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs, daughter of the senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church Chad Scruggs. The three adult victims include school head Katherine Koonce, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and school custodian Mike Hill.

Hale, carried out the attack armed with a semiautomatic handgun and two short barrel, magazine-fed military-style semiautomatic weapons, including a foldable carbine and an “AR-pistol” with ammunition designed for the close combat needs of the U.S. military’s M4 carbine rifle.

Hale died following interactions with officers who had immediately responded to the scene.

According to Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake, the shooter had attended Covenant “at one point.” Hale identified as transgender, he said, adding that police had found detailed maps about the school, along with a manifesto, created by Hale prior to the shooting.

“We come here to be with and for each other, not only for us gathered here in this church today, but with and for all the people of Nashville and Middle Tennessee that have gone through this day struggling, emotional, tearful,” Bishop Spalding said in his homily.

“We come together to be with everyone, and we’re together in our prayer, we’re together in our condolences and our sympathies, we’re together in our love, love for another,” he added.

“And we understand our words in these kinds of moments are somewhat insufficient, but for you and for our family and friends that we go to in the next hours and days ahead, please make sure you listen with love,” he continued. “Listen and our most profound response can be this. ‘I love you. I care for you. I’m here for you.’ Those words are sufficient.”

“We are mindful that our faith, our hope and our love overcomes, endures, even through the darkness and the sufferings and pains of life, and today is one of those significant days of tragedy and pain,” Bishop Spalding said.

He said that he hoped “our prayer here as a family of faith today is like an embrace for our community.”

Bishop Spalding noted that the word ‘lament’ had been a frequent one on his mind throughout the day.

“Lament is a prayer or a poem or a song in which we cry out to God in our suffering and in our pain,” he said, “and we tell him, ‘Here is my hurt, here is my anger, here is my frustration, here is my woundedness and my weakness. Help me God. Help me in this moment.’”

Nearly 150 people were present for the special Mass.

“They are our colleagues. We know people there and we’re saddened that they’re not only experiencing this but that their lives are changed forever because of this senseless act,” said Rebecca Hammel, superintendent of schools for the diocese.

Editor’s note: Katie Peterson is a reporter with the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. OSV News staff contributed to this report.

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