The head of The Covenant School would run toward danger. The school custodian, dubbed “Big Mike,” would sacrifice for others. And one of the young victims was a “shining light” for the world.
Those memories and touching words were among many from friends and family mourning the deaths of three 9-year-old students and three school staffers killed inside a Nashville private school Monday by deranged shooter Audrey Hale.
Vigils were held in the aftermath of the shooting Monday and Tuesday nights with a citywide vigil planned for Wednesday evening, according to the Tennessean.
The grieving community remembered slain students Hallie Scruggs, Evelyn Dieckhaus and William Kinney and school staffers Katherine Koonce, the school’s headmaster, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and custodian Mike Hill.
Friends of Koonce said the 60-year-old headmaster was a strong leader who would do anything for her students – including putting her life on the line for them.
“If there was any trouble in that school, she would run to it, not from it,” Koonce’s friend Jackie Bailey said. “She was trying to protect those kids … That’s just what I believe.”
A former co-worker of Koonce, Anna Caudill, said she was “an absolute dynamo and one of the smartest women I’ll ever know.”
“She wasn’t Wonder Woman, but I never saw the two in the same place,” said Caudill, who worked with Koonce at Christ Presbyterian Academy, another Christian school in the area.
Hill, the 61-year-old custodian, was the type of man who would sacrifice for others.
“I don’t know the details yet. But I have a feeling, when it all comes out, Mike’s sacrifice saved lives,” Pastor Tim Dunavant, of the Hartsville First United Methodist Church wrote on Facebook.
“I have nothing factual to base that upon. I just know what kind of guy he was. And I know he’s the kind of guy that would do that,” he added, noting he hired Hill to work at Covenant more than a decade ago.
Friend Jim Bachmann said Hill, a father of eight, was called “Big Mike.”
“He’s called ‘Big Mike’ – a big strong fellow,” Bachmann said, according to WKRN. “He would know the kids by name.”
Peak, 61, was a “sweet person from a sweet family” who was a devout Christian, said lifelong friend Chuck Owen.
“She told me that she got saved in college and that God’s love changed her life,” Owen said.
Her family said in a statement their “hearts are broken” over the sudden death.
They noted she was “a teacher beloved by all her students.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Peak was one of his wife’s best friends and she was supposed to eat dinner with her on Monday night, WSMV reported.
One student killed in the shooting, Evelyn Dieckhaus, was remembered as a “shining light” for the world by her family.
“Our hearts are completely broken. We cannot believe this has happened,” the family said in a statement, according to KMOV. “Evelyn was a shining light in this world. We appreciate all the love and support but ask for space as we grieve.”
Classmate William Kinney had an “unflappable spirit” a friend of the family said on a GoFundMe page set up for the family.
“He was unfailingly kind, gentle when the situation called for it, quick to laugh, and always inclusive of others,” Rachael Freitas wrote. “He loved his sisters, adored his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and was always excited to host friends of every age. Sweet Will knew no strangers, and our hearts our broken for his family as they try to find their way forward.”
And Hallie Scruggs was the daughter of the senior pastor at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, Chad Scruggs, who said in a statement about his daughter, “Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again,” according to ABC News.
The Dallas church where Scruggs used to be a pastor until 2018 remembered the young girl Tuesday during a vigil.
“The first year Chad came on staff in 2013, was the year Hallie was born, and so, she was baptized in our church,” said Mark Davis, senior pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, according to NBC DFW.
“She’s part of the life of this church, and that’s why so many people were here today, because they love that family, because they were loved well, by that family.”
Hale, a 28-year-old former student of the school, was fatally shot by police after carrying out the unthinkable rampage.
With Post wires