Axios Nashville

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Good morning. It's Wednesday.

  • This newsletter reflects on the mass shooting at The Covenant School a year ago today.
  • Today's weather: Sunny with a high of 59.

Today's newsletter is 848 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: One year since the Covenant shooting

A memorial constructed last year to commemorate the victims of The Covenant School shooting. Photo: Johnnie Izquierdo for The Washington Post via Getty Images

March 27, 2023, began as a beautiful day.

Children at The Covenant School bounded through the playground. Surveillance video shows them happily bobbing up and down on a swing set that morning.

Moments later, violence shattered their joy, as a former student armed with multiple firearms carved a path of destruction through the little school on the hill.

Kindergarteners on the playground ran through the woods to find safety. Others hid in closets with teachers or stood like soldiers against their classroom walls as gunshots rang out.

Six people died in the mass shooting.

  • Student Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9
  • Student Will Kinney, 9
  • Student Hallie Scruggs, 9
  • Custodian Mike Hill, 61
  • Head of school Katherine Koonce, 60
  • Substitute teacher Cindy Peak, 61

Responding police officers charged into danger and confronted and killed the shooter.

In the months that followed, grieving families grappled with a tragedy that surpassed understanding. Thousands in Nashville and even more around the world walked alongside them during protests, vigils and the hard realities of day-to-day life.

  • Brentwood Hills Church of Christ opened its doors and converted Bible study rooms into classrooms so school could take place there.
  • Neighbors tied bright red bows to their mailboxes so that kids on their way to school could see they were not alone.
  • Mounted police officers introduced students to their horses, and therapy dogs came to campus. An organization connected traumatized families with the new pet pups that have helped the kids cope.
  • And Covenant families have leaned on one another to navigate the uncertain path.

Those are the stories The Covenant School is lifting up in this "new season of healing."

"As we mark this painful anniversary, we find solace in the light that has emerged from the darkness," the school said in a new statement.

  • "It is with profound gratitude that we acknowledge the overwhelming outpouring of love and support we have received 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."

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2. Returning to campus

An aerial view of The Covenant School campus on March 27, 2023. Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Covenant School is preparing to shift its students back to the Green Hills campus next month for the first time since the shooting.

  • The school asked Nashvillians to "cover us in prayer ... as we move forward."

The school encouraged people to fluff up the red bows on their mailboxes and put supportive signs back up in their yards.

  • "[I]t will be nice to have a reminder that we are surrounded by the Nashville community."

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3. Human chain demonstration planned for today

Participants forming a human chain for gun reforms in April 2023 after The Covenant School shooting. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

New parent groups emerged in the aftermath of The Covenant School shooting to push for gun reforms and other policy changes that might make schools safer.

  • One of those groups, Voices for a Safer Tennessee, is marking the day with a 4-mile human chain stretching from Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt to the Tennessee Capitol.

State of play: The group says it needs 13,000 people to complete the chain from 5-5:30pm today. Participants can register online.

What they're saying: "We take strength from being together and sharing our grief, but we also want to share our hope that by working together we can advance meaningful change to reduce preventable firearm tragedies statewide," Erin Rogus, policy director for Voices for a Safer Tennessee, tells Axios in a statement.

Between the lines: While their pursuit of modest gun reforms has fallen flat in the conservative General Assembly, the parents-turned-activists have repeatedly said they were committed to making this a long-term effort.

Learn more about the demonstration

4. The Setlist: Nashville Scene reporter arrested

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Nashville Scene reporter Eli Motycka was arrested by Vanderbilt police yesterday while covering student protests on the university's campus. (Nashville Scene)

📃 A bill to end flu and whooping cough vaccine requirements for foster families is awaiting Gov. Bill Lee's signature after lawmakers approved the measure. (Tennessee Lookout)

🚗 After two previous attempts at unionizing the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga failed, experts believe a third try, which is in the works, will succeed. (Axios)

5. "More than just that day"

In the immediate aftermath of The Covenant School shooting, Nashvillians gathered at a vigil at Woodmont Christian Church. Photo: Seth Herald/Getty Images

Brent Leatherwood has three children who were at Covenant during the shooting.

  • He tells Axios memories and questions about that day surface unexpectedly.

"It is not a straight line from trauma to recovery," says Leatherwood, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the former executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party.

  • "I don't even know at this point if I can define what recovery looks like."
  • "This moment, it's going to mark us."

"The choice coming out of this is: Are we going to be defined by the darkness of that day, or are we going to be defined by hope?" Leatherwood says.

His family has focused on supporting those who lost a loved one in the shooting and doing what they can to protect other schools moving forward.

  • The coming Easter holiday underscores the significance of the battle-tested faith community at Covenant, which is connected with the Covenant Presbyterian Church.
  • Leatherwood says that a sense of family and tenacity are central to the small school's story.

"We want Covenant to be known for more than just that day."

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Nate and Adam are thinking of the Nashville parents who are dropping their kids off at school today.

This newsletter was edited by Jen Ashley and copy edited by Katie Lewis.