Nashville school shooter’s former classmates reveal ‘obsessive’ and ‘stalkerish’ behaviour
By Joe Sommerlad,2023-03-31
In the wake of Monday’s attack on The Covenant School in Nashville , Tennessee , which left three students aged nine, three staff members and the shooter dead , police identified the suspect as Audrey Hale – who was once enrolled at the private Christian institution – and suggested a nurtured sense of “resentment” might be behind the atrocity.
Since then, a number of former classmates of Hale, 28, have spoken to the media about their past relationships with the suspect as the search for a definite motive behind the elementary school massacre continues.
This is what they have had to say.
Patton, a Nashville media personality, was a teammate of Hale’s on the 2008/09 Isaiah T Creswell middle school girls basketball team and was the person the shooter reached out to with a series of disturbing Instagram messages just moments before the attack took place on Monday.
Hale’s messages to Patton praised her as “the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen and known all my life” and revealed plans to die by suicide, declaring “this is my last goodbye” and that Patton would soon be reading about what was then about to unfold “on the news after I die”.
Hale added ominously: “My family doesn’t know what I’m about to do. One day this will make more sense. I’ve left more than enough evidence behind. But something bad is about to happen.”
Understandably alarmed, Patton subsequently told local media outlet NewsChannel5 that she contacted the Suicide Prevention Help Line and was advised to call the Nashville Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and then the city’s non-emergency number instead, which she did, only to be kept on hold for seven minutes before she could speak to someone, by which point the attack was already underway.
A portion of that call was released on Thursday in which Patton states calmly that she received a “very, very weird” message from a friend and requests that someone be sent to check on their wellbeing.
Reflecting on the tragedy in its aftermath, Patton told NewsChannel5: “Spiritually it’s eating me, it’s eating me alive right now because I’m trying to make God help me wrap my mind around what, what is this God.”
Speaking to Don Lemon on CNN on Monday, she stressed that she had not been on close terms with Hale since their middle school days and had not been aware of the latter’s decision to come out as transgender: “I knew her when we were kids, when we were younger. I didn’t know the adult Audrey. I still addressed her as Audrey. I never addressed her as anything else but Audrey.”
Asked by The Tennessean about their time together as basketball teammates, Patton said: “Audrey was super timid when we first met her. We had real camaraderie. As far as on the court, we were like a family.”
On Tuesday, The New York Times published an interview with a former art teacher of Hale’s, who said she recalled seeing a Facebook post from the shooter “openly grieving” the death of someone she assumed must have been a romantic partner.
Maria Colomy of the Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville told the newspaper: “She had been openly grieving about that on social media, and during the grieving is when she announced that she wanted to be addressed as a male.”
Colomy also remembered seeing Hale break down in tears of frustration on the first day of college after struggling to set up a password for an online student portal.
After the Facebook line emerged, another former classmate, Samira Hardcastle, explained to The New York Post that Hale had been “heartbroken” over the death of one Sydney Shere Sims in a traffic accident in August 2022, another student from Isaiah T Creswell and the Nashville School of the Arts.
Hardcastle said the “tomboyish” Hale had “definitely admired” Sims and characterised the suspect’s feelings as “maybe even infatuation” towards her, saying Sims had been someone Hale had “really, really looked up to”.
“After Sydney’s tragic death, Audrey was really heartbroken over it… I just feel like she took it differently than some of us did. She was still posting about Sydney almost daily,” Hardcastle told the tabloid.
“What I knew of her was more admiring [Sims]. Maybe even infatuation. That’s specifically who she really, really looked up to.”
Sims’s family declined to comment when approached by The Independent .
Hardcastle added that she had last seen Hale about a month ago when they both happened to attend a taping of Averianna Patton’s radio show: “I don’t think she was with anyone. She was just kind of by herself.
“I don’t think that they were very close but I think Audrey looked up to [Patton] like she looked up to Sydney. But I don’t know that it was ever, like, a two-way thing.”
Another member of the Creswell basketball team, Mia Philipps, 28, likewise remembered Hale as withdrawn in her middle school days.
“We felt she was shy,” Phillips told The Tennessean . “So we embraced her and really befriended her.”
She explained that the pair had subsequently attended different high schools but that Hale had regularly contacted her on social media, often striking a nostalgic note about their time together on the court, clearly a happy period on which Hale looked back fondly.
“I’m trying to be as respectful and also as honest as possible,” Phillips said of the persistent messages.
“It felt obsessive. It felt like stalkerish behaviour.”
Phillips also recounted a bizarre episode from February 2022 when Hale had turned up uninvited to another friend’s birthday party and had appeared to pretend to be drunk, despite not consuming any alcohol at the gathering.
“Everybody was confused,” she said. “It was just rubbing us in a weird way of, like, giving us a really negative feeling. It didn’t feel right.”
She also described running into Hale at a memorial for Sims later last year at which the shooting suspect had followed her to her car, only to be rebuffed by Philips.
“I was expressing to her that it was not the time or the place, that we were all grieving,” she explained.
Sims’ sister Taylor likewise shared an account with The Tennessean of Hale turning up uninvited to a family event.
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