‘We’re going to have to find a way’: Nashvillians reflect on loss
Monday’s shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School, a private elementary school in an affluent neighborhood, was the city’s third mass shooting in six years.
Wednesday, March 29, at 5:30 p.m.
One Public Square Park, outside City Hall
A gunman shot seven people at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in September 2017, killing one; and a 29-year-old man with schizophrenia opened fire inside a South Nashville Waffle House in 2018, killing four.
For some Nashvillians, old wounds were opened. Others sustained fresh losses.
Shaundelle Brooks: “Oh, no. Not again.”
Shaundelle Brooks was preparing to meet a friend for lunch on Monday when her youngest son, Aldane, texted her: His school, Hillsboro High in Green Hills, was on lockdown. Both the Brooks assumed it was a drill; usually, Shaundelle Brooks said, she received notes from school administrators after the fact.
But then family members from New York and friends in other parts of the country began texting her: Is Aldane alright? they asked. There was a school shooting in Green Hills.
“I felt like my body melted,” she said. “My body felt cold. He was nervous. I was nervous.”
Oh no, she thought. Not again.
Another of Brooks’ sons, Akilah Dasilva, was killed on April 22, 2018, when gunman Travis Reinking fatally shot him and three other people in a Nashville Waffle House.
Almost four years later, in February 2022, Reinking was found guilty on four counts of first degree murder. The trial was excruciating, she said. And it wasn’t justice. Justice would be her son, still alive, still thriving.
“Every year we go to the Capitol in D.C., we go to the Tennessee Capitol, and along the way, we’ve looked for changes,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s been five years, and no laws are in place to protect our kids.”
Still, she fights. She fights for gun safety laws. She talks to legislators. She testifies in front of committees. She protests.
And instead of going to lunch on Monday, she and her friend — Ashbey Beasley, herself a survivor of a July 4, 2022 shooting in Highland Park, Ill. — went to a news conference near Covenant School.
“Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of covering this?” Beasley asked of media.
Brooks gets tired. But, she said, “I don’t want any other moms to go through this. To lose your child is devastating, but to lose them this way is worse.”
Anna Caudill: “She was a boss.”
“It was hell,” Anna Caudill said of the moment when, in a group text, she learned there was a shooter at Covenant Presbyterian.
Caudill’s husband is a teacher at Christ Presbyterian Academy (CPA) the private high school affiliated with Covenant. Her youngest son is a junior.
“There are just so many links between those communities,” she said.
And then she thought about her friend, Katherine Koonce, head of the school at Covenant. The two met in 2000, when both were hired as teachers at CPA. They immediately bonded.
“You know how you find these people who know they can be with you? They’re safe places? That was her,” Caudill said of Koonce.
Koonce was killed on Monday during the shooting at Covenant.
Caudill remembered Koonce as having a powerful and insatiable mind, who ran CPA’s Summer Scholars program for gifted and talented students, and pushed for the inclusion of programs for those with learning disabilities. She was witty. Mischievous.
“She made space for a lot of kids who wouldn’t have found success at private Christian schools, particularly kids with learning disabilities,” Caudill said.
After the Caudills adopted their first son, who has disabilities, Koonce came to meet the little boy.
“He was 3 when he joined our family in 2008, and the first time (Koonce) saw him, she started playing with him — she was like a kid.”
“And then, I realized she was evaluating him,” Caudill said. “She came over to us and said, ‘He’s going to keep you running. He’s smarter than you are.'”
“I really am a better person for seeing her empower young people to embrace their learning disabilities as part of their completeness. She taught kids to advocate for themselves and talk to adults about it,” Caudill said. “I hope I’m a healthier parent because of it.”
It wasn’t only children for whom Koonce had a huge and lasting effect. Women with significant leadership skills don’t often find themselves nourished or valued in the Christian community, Caudill said. And Koonce mentored other women.
Her sphere of influence impacts generations, Caudill said.
“There is the loss of Katherine to her family, her friends, and the people who loved her and will miss her – but there are all the kids whom she helped find their preciousness. That’s rare.”
“She was a boss.”
Eric Patton: Put down hate
Nashvillian Eric Patton takes pride in being a Methodist, and serves as head usher and chair of the welcoming committee at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville. So as soon as he heard church leaders had organized a spur of the moment vigil on Monday night, he knew he would go.
“It’s so important when something like this happens to come together as a community, and I wanted to do my part,” Patton said. “Everyone was hurting. Everyone needed a place to cry and feel like those tears weren’t in vain.”
About 200 people attended the vigil, the first of several that are scheduled throughout this week.
Belmont members say they are “the hands and feet of God,” says Patton.
“The thing I love about Belmont is that we put feet to our prayers. You’re going to hear words of comfort but also justice. I think that’s why a lot of people came to us: They know they won’t hear the traditional thoughts and prayers.”
In light of Monday’s shooting, Patton said, “right now, there’s so much hatred in the world. The only way we’re going to fix anything in this world is by putting down hate and working together and loving each other – and it’s really hard to do right now, but we’re going to have to find a way.”