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Nashville Covenant school headmaster hailed as hero in wake of shooting: 'She protected her children'

Local leaders and law enforcement experts are praising school administrators and teachers for their response to Monday's shooting at the Convenant School in Nashville, Tennessee.

EXCLUSIVE DETAILS: Katherine Koonce, the headmaster at The Covenant School who was shot and killed on Monday, went to great lengths to prepare her students and staff for active shooter situations and immediately took action when a former student opened fire. 

Nashville City Councilman Russ Pulley said that Koonce was in the middle of a virtual meeting when the shooting started around 10:13 a.m.

"It is my understanding from a witness at the school, that Katherine Koonce was on a Zoom call when she heard the first shot. She immediately ended the call, got up, and headed straight for the shooter," Pulley, a former FBI special agent, told Fox News Digital on Tuesday, noting that he did not have details about the confrontation that ensued after that. 

"She did what principals and headmasters do; she protected her children," Pulley said. "In addition, she prepared the school by seeking advanced level active shooter training and from witnesses at the scene, this protocol (details of which I cannot provide) saved countless lives."

Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference on Tuesday that he couldn't confirm exactly what Koonce did, but that she was found in a hallway by herself. 

"There was a confrontation, I’m sure – you can tell the way she was lying in the hallway," Drake said. 

John Bourgeois, the pastor at West End Community Church where Koonce was a member, notified the congregation of her death in a message on Monday.

"She gave her life in defense of the children under her care," Bourgeois wrote to church members.


Two other school employees – Cynthia Peak, a 61-year-old substitute teacher, and Mike Hill, a 61-year-old custodian – were also killed in the shooting. 

Hill, the custodian, was shot and killed as the shooter let loose a barrage of bullets into the locked glass doors to get into the school, Drake said. 

"I don’t know the details yet. But I have a feeling, when it all comes out, Mike’s sacrifice saved lives. I have nothing factual to base that upon. I just know what kind of guy he was. And I know he’s the kind of guy that would do that," Tim Dunavant, a pastor at Hartsville First United Methodist Church who hired Hill at the Covenant School 13 years ago, wrote in an online post on Monday. 


As soon as police officer Rex Engelbert arrived outside the school, an unnamed school employee met him outside. 

"The kids are all locked down but we have two kids that we don’t know where they are," the employee can be heard saying on body camera footage as she fills officers in on the layout of the building. 

Officer Engelbert, armed with information from the teacher and a rifle, led a group of officers into the school and quickly started clearing classrooms. Minutes after entering, the shooter opened fire on other responding officers from the second floor. The officers ran upstairs toward the sounds of the gunfire and took out the shooter, who was armed with two rifles and a handgun. 

Once the scene was secured, teachers and administrators led students to a reunification area at Woodmont Baptist Church. 

"I was at that scene and observed them calmly handling the children like it was another day at school," Pulley, the city councilman, said. "After all the children were reunited with their parents, the staff became emotional. But, while they had their children, they were amazingly doing what teachers and administrators do; take care of their children. And those children seemed to be doing as well as they could under the circumstances."


National Police Association spokeswoman Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith said that the body camera footage shows officers and school employees worked together to prevent what could have been an even more devastating tragedy. 

"There are certain people that are panic resistant people, teachers, doctors, nurses, cops, firefighters, street reporters, there are certain people who are drawn to certain jobs that are panic resistant. And teachers are in that category," Smith told Fox News Digital. 

"So what you had is the police response, and then you had these teachers who obviously had trained, obviously discussed this. And they worked so well with the police officers and they provided the right information at the right time and obviously risked themselves. We have three adults deceased as well."

Three 9-year-old students – William Kinney, Hallie Scruggs, and Evelyn Dieckhaus – were also killed in the shooting. 

The shooter, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, conducted surveillance of the school before driving there on Monday morning and opening fire. Police later found hand drawn maps with detailed entry points to the building, along with a manifesto that may reveal the motive. 

Hale bought seven firearms from five different local gun stores in Nashville legally, three of which were used during the shooting on Monday. 

Police believe Hale targeted the Covenant School, which she attended years ago, but don't think she targeted individual victims specifically. 

Fox News Digital's Michael Ruiz contributed to this report. 

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