NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Metro Nashville officers who confronted the shooter at The Covenant School last week have spoken out for the first time.
Metro Police Chief John Drake and Commander Dayton Wheeler made remarks before responding officers Detective Sergeant Jeff Mathes, Detective Michael Collazo, and Officer Rex Engelbert shared what they remembered about that day.
On Monday, March 27, six people, including three children, were shot and killed by 28-year-old Audrey Hale at The Covenant School in Green Hills. Police were quick to swarm the school and take out the shooter, just minutes after the first report of the shooting.
Collazo and Engelbert are credited with taking down the shooter.
Body camera footage released by authorities shows officers clearing the rooms on the first floor of the school before moving to the second floor, toward the gunfire.
Det. Mathes with the Midtown Hills Precinct said he vividly remembers stepping over a victim. “All of us stepped over a victim. I to this day don’t know how I did that morally, but training is what kicked in,” he added, explaining the decision.
“Our job is to run toward it,” Mathes said. “We just heard the sounds and from my training experiences, I knew those sounds to be rifles.”
Mathes said when they got up the stairs, he smelled gunpowder.
Nine-year-veteran Det. Collazo said he had just started his shift when he heard the radio code of an active shooter. When he arrived, another officer was there. He saw shell casings on the ground, bullet holes in the door, and the custodian on the ground, unmoving.
Collazo linked up with Sgt. Mathes and continued clearing rooms. “Once we started hearing the first shots, that’s when everything kicked into overdrive for us.”
That’s when they found the second victim, Collazo said, “You could clear as day tell they were rifle rounds being fired.” He added smoke was everywhere and the fire alarm was going off.
Officer Engelbert, who has been with MNPD for four years, said he still hadn’t finished his coffee and was actually going to do administrative work at a different sector when he got the call for service.
“I think you could call it fate, or God, or whatever you want, but I can’t count on both my hands the irregularities that put me in that position,” he said. “I’ve been to I don’t know how many false deadly aggression calls, but something told me it was time to really get to this one.”
Engelbert remembered two staff members giving him calm, clear information to help people in danger. They said the staff’s training and response were vital in preventing further casualties.
When he heard the first gunshots, he said he looked for the nearest staircase because he knew the shooter was above his head.
Within minutes, officers were face-to-face with the shooter.
“In this situation, there was still movement, and even reaching toward the weapon,” said Mike Walker, a retired colonel with Tennessee Highway Patrol, as he reviewed the footage with Nexstar’s WKRN. “So, yes, they’re going to shoot until that threat’s eliminated.”
All of the responding officers offered their deepest condolences to the families of the victims.
The six victims were identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, William Kinney, all 9 years old, Cynthia Peak, 61, Dr. Katherine Koonce, 60, and Mike Hill, 61.
Each of the six victims died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to Davidson County Medical Examiner Feng Li, who performed the autopsies on Tuesday, March 28.
Chief John Drake of the MNPD said by the time he arrived on scene; the three children had already been transported to the hospital. However, he found the other victims spread out in different places throughout the building.
Koonce was found in a hallway and Drake said it’s possible she may have run toward Hale but couldn’t say for sure. Hill was reportedly killed when Hale shot through the side door, having been hit by the bullets and shattered glass, according to police.
Hale, who was armed with two assault-style rifles and one handgun, fired 152 rounds throughout the shooting. Chief Drake said there is no information to indicate Hale was specifically targeting any one of the six victims but rather that the location itself appeared to be the target.
Police said investigators tracked down Hale’s address and searched the family home on Brightwood Avenue in the Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood where officers reportedly found detailed maps drawn of the school, including surveillance and entry points, as well as a manifesto.
Drake said Hale legally bought seven firearms from five different gun stores in the area. Three of those guns were used in Monday’s shooting and investigators believe Hale hid several weapons in the home.
Hale was also reportedly under doctor’s care for an “emotional disorder.” Hale’s parents thought Hale had previously owned only one gun and had sold it. The chief added there are no laws in place that would have prevented Hale from having weapons, even with certain mental health issues.
Police also searched Hale’s vehicle, which was left in the school parking lot, and found “additional material written by Hale.”
Hale attended The Covenant School at one time and had no criminal history, according to police.
Search warrants revealed what investigators seized from the home of the shooter.
Inside the home, officers found two shotguns, one in a bedroom closet and another next to a desk in a bedroom. Investigators also took 30 journals, some with references to school shootings and firearms courses.
A suicide note was found on a desk in one of the bedrooms.
Metro police said the shooting began at 10:13 a.m. as Hale drove a Honda Fit to the school and shot through a side door of the school, before going to the second floor and firing multiple shots.
The police department released video showing Hale pulling into the parking lot and shooting through the school doors.
The surveillance footage shows Hale, holding an assault-style rifle, walking through the school and looking into multiple rooms at about 10:20 a.m.
Photos released by police show a bullet hole in a squad car windshield, the school’s side doors completely shot out, and windows shot out from the second story of the school. Police said Hale fired shots at arriving officers from the second floor.
According to police, Officers Englebert and Collazo met the shooter on the second floor and shot Hale to death.
Officer Rex Englebert shot a total of four rounds from his rifle while Officer Michael Collazo fired four rounds from his nine-millimeter pistol, police said.
Metro police released body-worn camera video from the two officers.
According to police, both Englebert and Collazo were trying to decompress and make sense of the whole situation. Drake said he also spoke with President Joe Biden, while The White House said the president also reached out to Englebert and Collazo, thanking them for their bravery and quick response to the shooting.