Nearly three months after a trans-identifying 28-year-old woman killed six people, including three 9-year-old kids, inside a Nashville Christian school, the dead shooter’s manifesto remains under wraps — and in demand.
While school officials and a group of parents — including the shooter’s — requested the writings to remain private, organizations including the National Police Association argue that Tennessee state law requires authorities to release the manifesto to the public.
“You get a lot of people saying, ‘Is it a good thing or a bad thing?’ Doug Pierce, the lawyer representing the National Police Association and private investigator Clata Renee Brewer in a lawsuit against the City of Nashville and Davidson County, told The Daily Wire. “But that’s not the issue. The issue is, what does the law require?”
On March 27, 2023, the shooter, whom The Daily Wire is not naming to avoid giving notoriety to shooters, went on a rampage inside The Covenant School, a Presbyterian-affiliated pre-K-6 school. The victims included three students — Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9; Hallie Scruggs, 9; William Kinney, 9 — and three staff members — headmaster Katherine Koonce, 60; Cynthia Peak, 61; and Mike Hill, 61.
Little is publicly known about the killer’s motive. Hours after the shooting, federal and local authorities searched the shooter’s property, where they found five laptops, a suicide note, two memoirs, five Covenant School yearbooks, and seven cellphones, according to a search warrant. Authorities found more writings inside the shooter’s vehicle left in the Covenant School parking lot.
Some documents obtained by law enforcement indicated the shooter had been planning a massacre at the private Christian elementary school for months and considered “the actions of other mass murderers.”
The Daily Wire and a host of other organizations have sought access, through Freedom of Information Act requests, to a collection of her writings that has been referred to as a “manifesto.” Authorities initially signaled the material would be released, but have since balked.
According to Pierce, Tennessee state law requires that any documents taken or received in connection with official government business must be released to the public unless there is a valid legal exception. Those opposed to releasing the manifesto have cited security and privacy concerns.
“For every person who says it’s a bad thing, I can point out that it’s a good thing,” he said. “Specifically, the basic concept we learn from experience.”
Dr. Katherine Ramsland, professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University, told The New York Post last month that mass murderers typically write manifestos with the intent that their motivations become publicized.
“Sometimes, it’s a suicide note, but it can also be an attempt to punish or to inspire others to follow their lead,” Ramsland told the outlet.
The Post reported Ramsland, who authored “Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers,” said mass killers typically “‘vent’ against people, institutions, and others in their social standing.”
The shooter, a former student at the Covenant School, reportedly documented plans in journals, which revealed her considerations and timeline for the attack at the school.
“The manifesto gives them the opportunity to feel powerful while they write it as they envision the damage they’ll exact against a society that otherwise ignores them,” Ramsland added.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said in April that the records would be released, but later reversed course and cited the public records lawsuit.
Last month, Judge I’Ashea Myles permitted groups of Covenant School parents to “intervene” in the public records lawsuit, The Daily Wire previously reported, with an attorney for the groups arguing that the parents are victims and have a constitutional right to be free from harassment.
The National Police Association, however, has been pursuing the information under the Tennessee Public Records Act. Other organizations and individuals, including the Tennessee Firearms Association, The Tennessee Star, The Tennessean newspaper, and Republican State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, have also attempted obtaining the documents through legal means.
“As tragic as this experience is, there are things to be learned if we are allowed to learn them, and the way that we learned them is by taking in all of the information,” Pierce said, noting the United States Secret Service (USSS) has been releasing information related to shootings for decades, he said, out of an obligation to determine motives and establish profiles of mass shooters.
Earlier this year, the Secret Service released a first-of-its-kind report that analyzed 173 mass attacks nationwide from 2016-2020. The report, which comes from the agency’s National Threat Assessment Center, examined several factors, from location to behavioral changes exhibited by the attackers.
The study found that over a quarter of the attackers made final communications, including journals or manifestos that detailed their plans and motives that often focused on angry or emotional undertones.
“We must do everything we can to prevent these, which is why we’re putting out this research for you. There is no community that is immune from this,” Lina Alathari, chief of the National Threat Assessment Center, told NPR earlier this year upon releasing the report.
Alathari told the outlet she hoped the research and guidance provided would help prevent future mass attacks.
According to Pierce, threats of potential violence have been foiled or prevented by the release of such information.
“We need to obtain this information so that we can learn from the information and that can help prevent future shootings and thereby save the lives of other people, including schoolchildren, school staff, and also law enforcement officers,” he said. “In other school shooting issues or situations, occurrences that have happened in this country, sometimes the parents have wanted the information to become public so that it can be evaluated.”
The association is scheduled for a show-cause hearing on July 12 in Tennessee’s Davidson County, when the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County will be required to prove why the information should be withheld from the public.
“And at the same time, there’s been a number of parties who have intervened in this case, specifically the Covenant School Church, the school, and parents of the school children who have asserted their belief that these writings should never be released,” he said. “And, of course, we are opposed to that concept.”