Nashville investigating after possible leak of Covenant shooting images

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville mayor's office called on the city's legal team Monday to investigate the possible unauthorized release of the writings of the shooter who indiscriminately opened fire at the private Nashville school in March, killing three children and three adults before being fatally shot by police.

Mayor Freddie O'Connell issued the statement shortly after conservative radio host Steven Crowder released what he said were three images of Audrey Hale's writings from the day of the shooting.

Metro Nashville Police Department said Monday the images were not “MNPD crime scene images” and that it was working with Nashville's legal department in the investigation.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation declined to confirm the authentication.

Authorities have not disclosed any of Hale's journals or writings that were collected after the March 27 shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. The shooter left behind at least 20 journals, a suicide note and a memoir, according to court filings.

MNPD initially said they would release the documents, but only after an investigation was officially closed — which could have taken months. In response, groups seeking the documents filed a lawsuit arguing that since the suspect was dead, the records should be immediately released.

Police then reversed course, saying that because of the lawsuits they would await the direction of the court on whether to release Hale’s writings.

That lawsuit is ongoing.

“I am deeply concerned with the safety, security, and well-being of the Covenant families and all Nashvillians who are grieving," O’Connell said.

Wally Dietz, Nashville's law director, confirmed in a statement Monday that he was launching the investigation, but said he could not immediately confirm nor deny the authenticity of the documents due to the limited information surrounding the “possible leak."

The Associated Press also has not confirmed the authenticity of the documents released Monday. The AP is one of several groups that have requested the writings but is not involved in the lawsuit to obtain them.

Attorneys representing families with the Covenant School have repeatedly said they have not seen Hale's writings.

Brent Leatherwood, whose three children attend Covenant School, challenged Crowder and anyone who would amplify the images online to “just be a human for once,” and stop seeking clicks or platform building. Talking to reporters, Leatherwood said the writings have the ability to inspire further attacks.

“How many people have to be killed in a senseless way so that you can get clicks?” he said.

Leatherwood said he received phone calls from parents today upset and worried to even look online at the images: “The damage done today is already significant, and I’m afraid it’s only going to grow.”

In May, a chancery court judge ruled that a group of more than 100 Covenant families could intervene in the case. The families say they do not want the police records to be made public, arguing the records will only cause more pain and possibly spark copycats.

An appeals court is now weighing whether that judge acted within the law.

Police have said Hale had been planning the massacre for months. Hale fired 152 rounds during the attack before being killed by police. Hale was under a doctor’s care for an undisclosed “emotional disorder,” police said. However, authorities haven’t disclosed a link between that care and the shooting.

The Covenant case is further complicated by the fact that Hale, who was assigned female at birth, seems to have begun identifying as a transgender man – prompting right-wing commentators, politicians and other figures to share false claims of a rise in transgender mass shooters and to suggest that the fight for trans rights is radicalizing people.

Authorities’ refusal to release Hale’s writings has fueled further speculation and conspiracy theories about what they might reveal about Hale’s motive or influences.

The three children who were killed in the shooting were Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. The three adults were Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school, custodian Mike Hill, 61, and 61-year-old substitute teacher Cynthia Peak. ___

Associated Press writer Adrian Sainz contributed to this report from Memphis, Tennessee.