The Covenant School: Remembering the Victims and Heroes 1 Year Later

Killed in the shooting were students Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs, and employees Mike Hill, Katherine Koonce, and Cynthia Peak.
Published: March 27, 2024

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — March 27, 2024, marks one year since three children and three adults were murdered at Nashville’s Covenant School. The victims were Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9, William Kinney, 9, Hallie Scruggs, 9, Mike Hill, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Cynthia Peak, 61.

“The past year has been terribly difficult for our community, and the pain is still very real. Throughout this challenging time, our unwavering commitment has been to prioritize the well-being and healing of our students, families, teachers, and staff,” the school wrote in a statement on its website. “As we mark this painful anniversary, we find solace in the light that has emerged from the darkness. It is with profound gratitude that we acknowledge the overwhelming outpouring of love and support from our local Nashville community and around the world. Your kindness has been a beacon of hope, and the depth of your generosity profoundly moves us.”

Governor Bill Lee ordered flags at the state capitol and all state office buildings to be lowered to half-staff from 10:11 a.m. until sunset to honor the victims.

Since the tragedy, victims’ families and friends have shared stories of what made them special. Some have established organizations, foundations, and memorials to carry on their legacies and to make meaningful changes in school safety.

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Evelyn Dieckhaus

Evelyn’s family called her a “shining light in the world.”

In a joint declaration, her parents said they hope “a more respectful, clear view can truly start to occur to help make a change that does not include releasing volumes of leverage for others planning similar devastation in this nation.”

Will Kinney

During the incident, smoke from the shooter’s weapon triggered the school’s fire alarm, according to News Channel 9. Students evacuated their classrooms as a result, and Will, who was designated as the line leader for his third-grade class, was the first to come face-to-face with the shooter in the hallway.

Will’s mother, Erin, lobbied with friends to pass a new law to better protect students and staff. Signed by Governor Bill Lee a few weeks ago, the law would require schools to establish new training and procedures for fire alarms that would allow teachers to confirm the type of emergency before responding. The proposal must now be cleared by the Senate where Republican leaders say they expect the bill to pass.

“My child was the line leader that day. He was fulfilling his duty to lead his class to safety from a possible fire, and within seconds of the building being breached, his class encountered the shooter and he and his two classmates were lying dead or dying,” Erin wrote in submitted testimony to lawmakers. “Had the students or teachers known that there was a shooter in the building, of course they would not have attempted to evacuate – they would have locked down, and they would have been safe.”

All schools in the state have until Jan. 1, 2025, to institute procedures to determine whether an emergency situation involves fire, an active shooter, or another incident, in consultation with local fire and law enforcement officials.

Hallie Scruggs

Hallie is the daughter of the church’s senior pastor, Chad Scruggs. She was close with her brothers and cousins, WSMV reports. Hallie’s aunt, Kara Arnold, said she was particularly close to her son, Chip. Their birthdays are three days apart.

“When he catches me crying, he just comes in and starts telling happy stories about her, you know, because he knows that, like, this is sad. And this is hard. And we always have this hard. But there is still there’s so much good. And we’re not gonna let go of that. and there’s so much happiness when we think of her,” Arnold said.

Hallie’s family and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee established the Hallie Scruggs Fund, which honors her legacy by supporting area non-profits.

Mike Hill

Mike was the school’s custodian and the first person killed in the attack. Nicknamed “Big Mike,” he is remembered as a loving father with unwavering faith in God, NBC reports.

“He hugged my kids and he hugged your kids, and he knew them by name,” Pastor Jim Bachmann said at Hill’s funeral. “As the first victim — maybe this is a sentimental thought, but it’s a comfort to me to think that Mike was there to welcome the children through the pearly gates.

Mike was the father to seven and grandfather to 14. He loved to cook and spend time with his family. He was the custodian at the Covenant School for 14 years and loved his job, his family said.

Katherine Koonce

Katherine, head of the Covenant School, was affectionately known as “KK” and is remembered as a hero for confronting the shooter. Witnesses said Koonce was on a Zoom call when she heard the first gunshots. She abruptly left the call and headed toward the shooter.

Cynthia Peak

Cynthia, a mother of three, was a substitute teacher, tutor, and swimming instructor. Her family, who referred to her as a “spitfire,” says she never wavered in her faith. She enjoyed taking sunset walks with her husband, Chris.

“She died doing what she loved,” her husband said. “And beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know she was protecting those kids.”

Officers Rex Englebert and Michael Collazo

Less than a year after the Robb Elementary School shooting in which law enforcement waited over an hour to breach the classroom filled with victims, Nashville Metro Police Officers Rex Englebert and Michael Collazo did not hesitate to enter the Covenant School. They stormed the building with other first responders as the suspect fired down from a second-floor window. In less than three minutes, the officers tracked the sound of gunfire and took down the shooter.

Voices for a Safer Tennessee March to Capitol on One-Year Anniversary

A group of Covenant School moms founded Voices for a Safer Tennessee, a nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide coalition dedicated to prioritizing firearm safety and advocating for common sense gun laws, according to its website. Ahead of this summer’s special session on school safety, members of the group prayed on the Capitol steps every day for 40 days.

On Wednesday, 10,000 people joined the group’s planned demonstration, “Linking Arms for Change.” Participants linked arms from the children’s hospital at Vanderbilt University, where shooting victims were taken, to the state Capitol. Members of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots volunteer network that works to end gun violence, also joined, as did members of the Metro Council.

“Even as the headlines fade, our movement will never forget the lives that were senselessly taken that day,” Angela Ferrell-Zabala, executive director of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement Tuesday. “We’ll continue to honor their legacy by demanding action from the lawmakers who have still failed to act in the aftermath of this tragedy, and prevent more gun violence from tearing through Tennessee communities.”

According to NBC, Tennessee’s GOP lawmakers have shot down almost every bill that would limit who can access a gun.

The Bright Knights Fund

The Bright Knights Fund was established to support the school and community. Click here to donate.

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